Indigenous children and youth have much to contribute to the world as empowered individuals with a profound understanding of their indigenous identity, cultural heritage, sustainable living and connection to their lands and territories. At the same time, many indigenous youth face immense challenges as a result of the intergenerational effects of colonisation and assimilation policies, as well as the continued struggles to ensure their rights and identity as indigenous peoples. Often, indigenous youth are confronted with the hard choice between maintaining their roots in the indigenous community – or pursuing education and employment in cities far from home. Being far from home, further exposes them to risks of both physical and emotional violence.
At the same time, indigenous youth experience much higher rates of suicide and self-harm compared to other youth. Indigenous youth and children face many further challenges, including:
- Lack of culturally appropriate education in their own languages
- Illiteracy and drop-out rates
- Forced relocation and loss of land
- Environmental pollution
- Incarceration and lack of legal protection
- Armed conflict
- Massive migration towards the cities
- Traffic and sexual exploitation
- Lack of healthcare services
- Suicide and self-harm
While struggling with the above challenges, many indigenous youth are organising themselves in youth organisations to improve these conditions and ensure that their rights are respected and promoted. At a global level, the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus typically convenes during the UNPFII session to discuss and give guidance on issues related particularly to indigenous youth and children.
Read more about the caucus and follow its activities throughout the year here.
The International Human Rights Framework for Indigenous Children and Youth
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) protects the rights of indigenous children and youth. Article 21 and 22 of the Declaration call for particular attention to indigenous children and youth, when implementing the UN Declaration – and when taking measures to improve the economic and social conditions of indigenous peoples. Further, the Declaration gives the right to live in freedom, peace and security including protecting children from being removed from their group by force (Article 7.2), the right to all levels of education without discrimination (Article 14.2), the right to be protected from economic exploitation or hazardous work and the right to be protected for violence and discrimination (Article 22.2).
The Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) covers indigenous children and youth and include specific references to indigenous children in ensuring their access to diverse media in their languages (Article 17.d), toe education that is non-discriminatory (Article 29.d) and the right to own culture, religion and language (Article 30).