By Jairus Ligoo DILI, Timor-Leste, 15 December 2010 – “This is an historic day,” proclaimed UNICEF Representative in Timor-Leste Jun Kukita in his opening remarks at the first seating of Timor-Leste’s Youth Parliament.
Some 130 young delegates converged for their initial session at the Palace de Nobre, overlooking the capital city of Dili. “At only an average age of 14 years old, you are the youngest youth parliamentarians in our region,” observed Fernando Araujo Lasama, President of Timor-Leste’s national Parliament, who was on hand for the session as well.
Urging the parliamentarians to seize the opportunity to represent the voices of young people in Timor-Leste, Mr. Lasama also invited them to be a part of Timor-Leste’s upcoming budget discussions.
Youth raise concerns
“I’m happy and proud to be selected as the President for this first session,” said Lizeiro da Silva, 15, who moderated the debates and led the votes by his peers.
Jonia Colho Soares, 16, raised the situation of youth not being able to pursue higher education due to non-availability of high schools near their homes. Jonia is one of 130 Timor-Leste Youth Parliamentarians.
The process resulted in the Youth Parliament drafting its first set of recommendations on issues affecting young people in Timor-Leste. Of greatest concern to the delegates were education, health, employment and recreation.
“I was able to raise the education concerns of young people by sharing the situation of education in my home district. I have been able to learn public speaking as well,” said Jonia Colho Soares, 16.
At the end of the session, the recommendations were officially presented to the national Parliament and the Secretary State for Youth and Sports. They will be used for follow-up dialogue by the young parliamentarians in the coming year.
Representing their communities
Representatives of Timor-Leste’s Parliament, political parties, UN agencies and development partners also attended the Youth Parliament, which is based on a Council of Ministers 2009 resolution that endorsed its establishment. The Youth Parliament is a unique, institutionalized youth-participation platform in a country where young people comprise a majority of the population.
The young parliamentarians were identified from a rigorous community selection process across the entire country and will represent their local areas for a period of two years. During this time, they will also learn leadership skills and contribute to the national dialogue on issues that concern them. Timor-Leste’s Youth Parliament is supported by UNICEF and the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.