Hong Kong government needs long-term vision for effective youth policy

Lau Ming-wai says ‘youth policy’ in Hong Kong must go beyond short-term alleviation and create a clear, long-term narrative to truly make an impact

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 1:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 6:53pm

People often ask me, what is the key issue facing young people in Hong Kong nowadays? There is no easy answer. To some, better education and job creation should rank high among the government’s priorities, but to others, creating space for civic participation is equally, if not more, important.

Historically, measures pertaining to youth – what I call “youth policies” – in Hong Kong have been the responsibility of governmental departments and non-governmental actors. These measures address the immediate, short-term needs of young people across different areas, but there has never been a central guiding principle for youth development. The 1980s saw an attempt to introduce a “youth policy” to consolidate efforts and offer an over-arching long-term vision. But it did not come to fruition.

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Having a youth policy is significant for several reasons. First, it shows the young what they can expect from the government, and makes visible its commitment to youth development. Second, it introduces a “youth perspective”, so that all actors can consider their action’s impact on youth, which helps to prevent duplication of efforts and maximise the impact of youth support measures. Third, such a policy provides a basis for impact assessment and is a tool for identifying best practices and knowledge gaps.

A youth policy is not a novel idea; many countries have one. Independent think tank Youth Policy Labs’ survey in 2014 found 62 per cent of nations worldwide have a national youth policy.

For instance, the United Kingdom’s Positive for Youth aids transition to adulthood through fostering supportive relationships, encouraging strong ambitions and providing opportunities. The National Strategy for Young Australians articulates a vision for all young people to grow up safe, healthy, happy, and resilient. New Zealand’s Youth Investment Strategy 2016 aims to provide opportunities that enable young people to acquire the skills and confidence they need to contribute to the growth of the country. Under each of these broad guiding principles, there are distinct, concrete measures that seek to put these values into practice.

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I have had the privilege of exchanging views with young people, youth workers, educators, social workers and other stakeholders at 189 events and meetings in the past year. This has led me to believe that each young person is fighting their own battle, and our support for them needs to go beyond short-term, alleviating measures. What our next generation needs is a unified, long-term vision and a clear narrative for youth development. What they need is a youth policy.

Lau Ming-wai is chairman of the Commission on Youth