About the rights of young people

Living the years of youth can lead to many different kinds of matters, but on the other hand, young people – like others – do not need to accept and meet all the challenges that seemingly come their way. There is help available, opportunities to make an impact on society, on their own life and circumstances, but young people also have the right to insist that their rights are materialised. One of the main duties of youth workers is to help young people to see hope and possibilities. New solutions can be found – and even if it would be an old one, it might be better thought out when talked over with a youth worker.

Smiling woman protesting with a bullhorn on the street with people in background

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Sources of knowledge

In this chapter, the sources of knowledge shared contain insights into the legal background regarding the equality of young people. Young people are as valuable as other people. Study or working posts neither affects their value nor their rights: all people are important parts of the society, whether they are in education, or work, or not. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations provides an important basis, see illustrated version. The declaration states that everyone has the right to life, freedom, and personal security.

In addition to the Human Rights Declaration, the Non-Discrimination act prohibits all discrimination. Discrimination is prohibited for example on the basis of age, nationality, disability or sexual orientation, see the illustrated version of the act published on the Ministry of Justice’s Equality.fi website. Society must also adjust its services so that they can be accessible to as many as possible. An interesting detail in organising such services are the rights and needs young people have of receiving these services in their own language. Based on the Youth Shelter manager Leena Suurpää of the Finnish Red Cross, there is a need to consider when some action is enough when offered the same to all, when there should be an introduction of an action in several languages, and when the presence of translator is needed so that the response to sometimes quite individual needs of support is offered appropriately.

Young people should have a “licence for better”, for better services, for example. Based on the Youth Act , the municipalities and state shall offer and organise opportunities for young people to participate in, in order for them make an impact on issues related to local, regional and nationwide youth work and policies, or otherwise ensure that they are consulted in said contexts. Additionally, young people shall be consulted in matters that affect them.

The Youth Act reminds about the obligations stated in the Local Government Act when it comes to setting up a youth council or some other corresponding youth group in making an impact. It is important to keep in mind the other commitments the Local Government Act has regarding participation. These include empowering young people to participate, and shall not be limited to those taking part in the work youth council, but, as the Act notices, possibilities for making impact should be varied and made available to all. Examples of such possibilities for impact-making include organising discussions and hearings, establishing citizen juries, collecting opinions, and facilitating co-operative planning processes. The youth worker has the knowledge to raise the level of participation and to include impact-making opportunities in the everyday life of every young person, for example, in youth premises (youth centres, youth houses) or in other parts of living milieus. Young people must also have a voice to define which matters they want to make an impact on. The ability to offer impact-making opportunities which inspires young people to participate also belongs to the youth worker skills. 

Like other people, young people may also get involved in criminal activities. Possibilities for supportive discussions are likely needed for both the victims of criminal activities and for the perpetrators. Getting involved in and committing crimes may also be related to some other problematic issues in life. The role of the youth worker may be a very important one, especially for those conducting crimes, because this kind of support seems to be offered very rarely in Finnish society for those older than 18 years old. The same principle of listening applies here as with anything else: it is essential to listen to what a young person has to say, and this truth is still valid, even if the issues discussed are complex and painful.

The skill of initiating a discussion is an important one to have for a youth worker. In a manual (which is available in Finnish) produced in the project called “Recognition and prevention of sexual grooming in youth work” by Koordinaatti, based on her experience, expert Laura Juntunen advises how to start to talk about difficult matters. It is important to ask young people questions so that she/he/they can answer even by means of a nod, only. For example: “Has someone done or ever attempted to do anything to you which you didn’t want to happen?” and “Has there ever been anything that now makes you feel bad?” Juntunen also suggests putting questions into writing, if talking is difficult. (Juntunen 2020.)

References for this part:
Juntunen, Laura (2020) Yksi kohtaaminen voi muuttaa kaiken. [One encounter can change everything.] In Oinas, Merja-Maaria & Pietilä, Mika & Tuohino, Venla (eds.) (2020) Kysy, kohtaa ja kuuntele. Opas seksuaalisen houkuttelun ja seksuaaliväkivallan ennaltaehkäisyyn nuorisotyössä. [Ask, encounter, and listen. Manual for recognition and prevention of sexual grooming in youth work.] City of Oulu: Koordinaatti, 10–12.