THE issue of the Youth Charter has been with us quite a while. It has been presented to the public for their appraisal, and it has been broadly supported by the non-government sector. In spite of considerable public support for the Charter, Hongkong people are still waiting for the Government to give its whole-hearted commitment to the young people of Hongkong. The idea of the Charter goes back some years to the United Nations International Youth Year. Young people defined for this purpose as being between 15 and 24 are immensely important for the present and future development of Hongkong. They are Hongkong's investment in the future. There is a clear need to state goals for the development of youth. The Charter provides a step in the right direction as a symbolic demonstration of widespread support for young people. As we are all aware, Hongkong society has changed dramatically in the last generation or two. One of the major changes in the community is in the decreasing number of children being born in each family. In the old days, children were the parents' insurance policy to ensure their comfortable old age. The more children (especially sons) the better the chance of being well looked after when you were too old to manage. Families were parent-centred rather than child-centred. An inflexible hierarchy operated which inhibited the children from challenging their elders. It also prevented the parents from seeing their children as developing individuals, whose spirits needednurturing as much as their bodies needed feeding. The greater numbers of children who needed looking after also meant that there was not so much time and energy to give them individual attention. Yet there were compensations in having plenty of playmates around, and many adult relatives to give comfortwhen it was needed. But times have changed, and for various reasons, one of which is certainly the wish to give a child more chances in life and a better education, there are now only one or two children per family. The improved levels of education generally combined with the higher standard of living means that the awareness of children's needs has heightened. More than a quarter of the population is now under the age of 25. The median age is 31. It is these young people who will be the leaders of Hongkong in the challenging years after 1997. HONGKONG society has also changed in response to the stimuli and stresses of life in an industrialised, urban environment. A big city mentality has taken over. We are all surrounded daily, as we travel to and from work or school, by thousands of strangers. Most people now live in nuclear families, in high-rise blocks, without the constant presence of grandparents and other relatives. This is especially true ofthe new towns in the New Territories where nearly half of the population now lives. Children face considerable pressure to achieve at school, to gain entry to the best schools in a highly competitive set-up. After school they now sit indoors doing their homework, rather than playing outdoors with their friends. There is no time for play and no time for involvement in community issues. This results in a feeling of isolation and detachment from the wider society. Problems associated with these far-ranging social changes have been manifesting themselves in recent years: teenage pregnancy and abortion, prostitution of young girls, juvenile delinquency, involvement in triad societies, underage drinking (as investigations by this newspaper have shown), and, perhaps most disturbing of all, 16 child suicides since the start of the school year in September. The situation that I have outlined above demonstrates forcefully to me, as a youth worker, that the young people of Hongkong are desperately in need of care and attention. Youth in a modern city is a vulnerable group. Young people are inexperienced and keen to experiment. Thus they are prey to all kinds of undesirable influences which may warp them and corrupt their spirits. This is why there is a pressing need for a Youth Charter. For the Charter creates a sympathetic focus on youth. It reflects the co-operative efforts of many concerned groups to understand explicitly the needs of young people and offer them positive direction and guidance. It shows them that the community values them, and cares for their well-being. The first section of the Charter sets out the principles and ideals of youth development; the second section states the rights of young people; and the third section outlines the long-term social goals for the development of youth. THE Charter has been criticised for not being legally binding, for having no practical value, for being vague. The Charter is not a law; its aim is to raise public awareness of issues concerning youth. It is intended to stand the test of time and create a framework of understanding, to create an attitude of mind which will outlast specific policies and political situations. It is not vague, rather it is flexible. Too many specifics would pin it down to a particular time and situation and render it worthless in the long run. On a practical level, the Charter operates on a system of subscription. In this way organisations and individuals interested in promoting the development of youth can become subscribers on a voluntary basis. The act of subscribing indicates the organisation's intention of supporting the Charter's ideals. Subscribing organisations will work within their respective constitutions, policies, priorities and available resources to implement to the best of their abilities the principles of the Charter. We welcome those organisations who choose to subscribe, and above all we need the Hongkong Government to become a signatory to the Charter. Government support will give the Charter a resounding endorsement. Ms Wong is an Executive Councillor and executive director, the Hongkong Federation of Youth Groups. In order to be effective citizens in the Hongkong of the future, the young must be able to develop independence and their rights after 1997. This Charter and the dissemination of its contents among the public, will help them. The Youth Charter categorically needs the backing of the Government.