Shape-shifting Youth

Tomorrow, August 12, is marked as International Youth Day.

youth day pic

But the very definition of youth is pretty fluid! It is the time between childhood and adulthood. Biology is only one aspect of it. Youth is more to do with a socio-cultural context. One way to look at it is that youth have high levels of dependency on their family emotionally and economically.

There are different minimum limits of age at which some decisions or actions can be taken freely, independently or legally. These may be taken as the crossover age from childhood to youth. But these are socio-culturally determined, for example voting age or drinking age or driving age. While leaving behind childhood leads to certain rights, it may deprive a person of certain other  rights—maybe the right to free and compulsory education.

Though the UN declared the International Youth Day in 1999, it cannot be said to be absolutely clear on who youth are! The United Nations defines youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24. But the UN itself recognizes that its various statutes and entities are somewhat confused on this issue—for instance, under this definition children are those under the age of 14, while under the 1979 Convention on the Rights of the Child, those under the age of 18 are regarded as children. The UN also recognizes that the definition varies from country to country.

In India, Youth are defined as those aged 15 to 29, as per the National Youth Policy (2014).

There are several rights which distinguish children from youth. Often even within a country, there is no uniformity across these. For instance, the Age of Consent in India is 18 years. The legal age of purchasing and consuming alcohol varies from state to state in India. In some states, the consumption of alcohol is totally prohibited and in some states, the legal age for consumption varies from 18 to 25. In terms of criminal justice, which became a major issue in the Nirbhaya case, children below 7 years are considered to be incapable of committing crime; between the ages of 7 to 12 there is a presumption of innocence given in favor of the child but if it is proved with evidence that the crime was committed by that child then he can be prosecuted as a juvenile; and those from 16 to 18 years, if liable for any heinous crime, can be tried as an adult after a general test that he/she has done the crime with his own knowledge and with adequate understanding about the crime and it’s consequences. And of course, the voting age is now 18 (down from 21 previously). With regard to legal working age, the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, defines a “Child” as any person below the age of 14, and prohibits any employment for these, including as domestic help. Children between age of 14 and 18 are defined as “Adolescent” and the law allows them to be employed except in the listed hazardous occupation and processes which include mining, inflammable substance and explosives related work. and any other hazardous processes.

The important landmark rights which come on crossing childhood and could be taken as indicators of having attained youth are:

Voting age

The minimum age established by law that a person must attain to be eligible to vote in a public election. Typically, the age is set at 18 years; however, ages as low as 16 and as high as 21 exist.

Age of candidacy

This is the minimum age at which a person can legally qualify to hold certain elected government offices.

Age of consent

This refers to the age at which a person is considered legally competent to consent to sexual acts. A person below the minimum age is regarded as the victim, and their major sex partner as the offender.

Defense of infancy

This relates to the age of criminal responsibility and implies that children below this age lack the judgment that comes with age and experience to be held criminally responsible.

Legal working age

The legal working age is the minimum age required by law for a person to work.

Drinking age

The legal drinking age is the age at which a person can consume or purchase alcohol.

Driving age

This is the age at which a person can apply for a driver’s license.

Smoking age

The smoking age is the minimum age a person can buy tobacco, and/or smoke in public.

Even if all this has left us more confused than ever as to who youth are, let us take the spirit of the theme of IYD 2020, which is “Youth Engagement for Global Action”, and seek to promote it.

The COVID context has exacerbated the situation of youth, and hence it is even more important than ever to focus on them. For instance,

# The economic impact of COVID-19 is set to make the job market more challenging for youth.

# Recent estimates suggest that 600 million jobs would have to be created over the next 15 years to meet youth employment needs.

# The proportion of young people not in employment, education or training (the youth NEET rate) has remained stubbornly high over the past 15 years and now stands at 30% for young women and 13% for young men worldwide.

India prides itself on its demographic dividend, it huge youth population. Youth constitutes 27.5% of India’s population and in terms of numbers, we are the highest in the world. So more than any other nation, we have to be concerned about our youth. The noble vision of the Youth Policy “To empower youth of the country to achieve their full potential, and through them enable India to find its rightful place in the community of nations” has to move from rhetoric to action.



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