Rights vs. Needs

But tell us a story!” It’s a demand by policymakers in a meeting where I am talking about the challenging situation of many young people in Europe. I am about to tell a story of how difficult it is to be a young person in Europe, and am hesitating about which story to pick? The one about a young person having a hard time finding a job, or the one about not having the possibilities to access education due to costs or should I tell the story about a young person who is forced to live at home due to lack of a decent salary? The issues are many and all of us know these people. In fact we are these people. We are part of a generation that is facing those difficulties.

In the meeting I opted for not telling a story. And don’t get me wrong – telling a story can be good, but when it is about begging for charity or trying to convince policy makers of the need of some policy or money by highlighting the saddest stories about young people, I am not in. Because it is a fact that we have rights, rights outlined and agreed upon in a number of conventions and charters. In Europe today though we seldom hear about rights. Instead we hear more about loans, percentages and AAA-ratings. Young people do have rights, just as the rest of the people in our societies, and these rights must be respected.

In the same time I argue that when it comes to young people these set of rights are not enough. The challenges when transitioning from childhood to adulthood are big and this is why there needs to be a set of agreed youth rights. A convention on youth rights. A convention outlining the rights that young people have, making information of these rights accessible, making it easier to claim these rights and report on breeches of these rights. Just as other vulnerable groups in our society have a set of separately defined rights, there should be one for young people.

A step in the right direction would also be to implement a rights-based approach to policies in Europe. The approach we see a lot today is a needs- based approach, which means that policies are formed after a need, that policies come into place when a need is identified. Having a needs-based approach is problematic as this often means that a difficulty or problem is tackled once it exists, not before. It also puts vulnerable groups in a position where we always have to argue that the need exists, instead of being treated as full citizens with rights. A rights-based approach is making sure there is respect for the individual and it is making sure that a person is not forced to beg for means to cope. The story of Europe should be a story of a rights- based continent.

A convention on youth rights is what we want and it is what young people in Europe not only deserve or need, but have the right to. The discussion on rights is to be put back onto the agenda in Europe. Lets talk about the societies we want, lets talk about us.