Youth policy needs a new direction

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am


Young people are our city's future. We need to create an environment in which they can fully develop their potential. This is particularly important when the population is ageing fast. Whether the Hong Kong story continues to be a success story depends largely on how well we take care of the younger generation. To capitalise on the opportunities for a brighter future, an effective youth policy is essential.

Despite this, a youth policy has never been high on the government's agenda. In other parts of the world, such as Malaysia, Singapore, France, India and New Zealand, there is a youth ministry focused on such matters. Hong Kong buries the portfolio in the Home Affairs Bureau, and does so obscurely, under the mission of social harmony and civic education. The objective, according to the bureau, is to promote positive values among young people, broaden their international perspective, enhance their understanding of Chinese culture, encourage participation in community service and promote leadership. Separately, a youth commission was set up in the early 1990s to advise on this area. The closest thing to a comprehensive policy is an 18-year-old youth charter, with rights and ideals on youth development spelled out and voluntarily followed by around 1,000 organisations and individuals.

The low priority given to one of society's greatest assets is puzzling. There has been a tendency to think our youngsters have no role to play in public affairs, and education is all they need. Along with funding for education, the government provides some moral training through the commission's work. The needs of young people must be better understood. Officials have recently paid more attention to the voices of the young as a result of activists resorting to more radical ways to get their message across. The lengthy protests against the demolition of the Star Ferry clock tower, and the high-speed railway to Guangzhou, are examples. It remains unclear whether a new social movement by the twenty-something generation has gradually been taking shape, but the shift towards more radical campaigns underlines the discontent among many young people over the way our city is being governed. Failing to tackle such grievances risks social instability, and challenges the government's authority. There is a need to listen to these voices and take the views of the young into account.

The onus is now on the next chief executive. A higher sense of urgency is needed to show that the next government is willing to better engage the younger generation. Front runners Leung Chun-ying and Henry Tang Ying-yen have yet to demonstrate a stronger commitment to youth development. It is to be hoped that their plans will become clearer as the election nears. The traditional approach is outdated and a better way must be found of engaging our young people.