Statement of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus on Agenda Item 3: Follow-up to the recommendations of the Permanent Forum: (b) indigenous youth of the 16th UNPFII

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Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus Intervention to the 16th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Agenda Item 3: Follow-up to the recommendations of the Permanent Forum: (b) indigenous youth

Statement of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and the Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus

Thank you, Ms. Chairperson.

On behalf of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus, I am Bablu Chakma of Kapaeeng Foundation.  We would like to echo the Forum’s appreciation to the Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth to bring attention to the issue of suicide and self-harm among indigenous youth in his advocacy.  Similarly, we value the recommendation of the Forum to urge member-states in taking measures at the national level to address this issue through training of experts in the field of psychology who will specifically focus on indigenous youth.  We would also like to reiterate the Forum’s recommendation of increasing the participation of indigenous youth in relevant UN forums, particularly on their specific invitation to the General Assembly to earmark existing and future funds to increase and enhance direct participation of indigenous youth at the UN.  We would like to note that this support be provided in an inclusive manner where the opportunity is well distributed to the varied indigenous groups that exist in each state.  We would also like to further reiterate the Forum’s recommendation to member-states based from the international expert groups meeting of indigenous youth in 2013, which covers the right to identity, language, culture and traditional livelihoods.  It should be noted that these rights are inseparable to our rights to self-determination and rights to our lands and territories.

Drawing out from these developments, we would like to direct the attention of the Forum on the enduring concern that indigenous youth remain to face the challenges of discrimination and marginalisation due to our identity.  Our access to quality education, health services and employment remain to be disproportionate to the non-indigenous youth of our respective countries.  Such disparity is leaving us more disadvantaged and vulnerable to being trapped in the cycle of poverty, human trafficking and lower mortality rate, among others.  The issue on education, health and employment are interrelated and are equally important in breaking the persistence of underdevelopment of indigenous youth that further affects our overall social, political and economic welfare of our indigenous communities.

In Japan, the ratio of indigenous Ainu and Ryūkyūans going to high school is 92.6% and 95.5%, respectively, compared to the general average of 98.6%.  Further, the Ainu and Ryūkyūans progressing to university has a low 25.8% and 34.4%, respectively, compared to the general average of 42%. The drop-out rates in university due to financial incapability is higher for Ainu and Ryūkyūans compared to the rest of Japanese population.  Their opportunities for education gravely affects the job prospects available for them to improve their future and current living conditions.  Similarly, school dropouts are higher among indigenous children in Bangladesh as is infant mortality and access to secondary and tertiary education, healthcare, training and employment opportunities.

In Nepal, seven (7) out of ten (10) girls being trafficked are from indigenous communities.  Similarly, in Vietnam, indigenous peoples are believed to make up only 13.8% of the population but 21.2% of people being trafficked are from the indigenous communities of Vietnam’s northern provinces. It should be noted that indigenous communities are not specifically targeted for trafficking but their vulnerability to be in that situation is rooted from being deprived of adequate and effective social, political and economic opportunities.

In Kachin state of Myanmar, 80% of Kachin youths are drug addicts affecting their mortality rate, their quality of life, as well as their prospects of providing better future for their families and communities, among others.  In general, indigenous peoples suffer from poorer health and are more likely to experience disability, reduced quality of life and ultimately die younger compared to the non-indigenous population.

It should also be noted that there have been apparent killings of indigenous youths.  In Thailand, 17-year old Chaiyaphum Pasae, an indigenous Lahu human rights activists was killed by the military in March 2017.  In the Philippines, 21-year old human rights indigenous Lumad activist, Maui Bago was abducted.  Bago is just one of many indigenous youth leaders and activists are being subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention; enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.  Similarly, in Bangladesh, on 19 April 2017, an indigenous youth rights activist, Romel Chakma was allegedly killed by the military while he was in custody in Rangamati under Chittagong Hill Tracts. His body was not returned but burnt to ashes to remove the evidence of his killing.

These situations of indigenous youth are by no means unique to these specific countries.  The pattern of disproportion and depravity with regards to the access to quality education, health and employment for indigenous youth is apparent to other Asian states, as in around the world.

As such, we urge Asian states to:

  • Ensure access to quality, mother tongue based education that is inclusive, flexible and culturally-relevant, particularly in early stages of education;
  • Provide proactive measures such as provision of scholarships particular for indigenous youth to ensure access to pursue higher education;
  • Ensure access to quality and culturally-sensitive health services that will guarantee full enjoyment of the right to physical and mental health of indigenous youth, including providing measures to address the issue of suicide and self-harm among indigenous youth;
  • Facilitate proactive measures to provide equal opportunity for employment between indigenous and non-indigenous youth, including providing equal protection in labour rights;
  • Take special attention to indigenous women and girls and ensure equal opportunity for education and provision specific health care needs, including protection and legal remedy to any gender-based violation and harassment, which is exacerbated due to their vulnerability to trafficking among others;
  • Provide immediate remedy and justice to violations to our rights to lands and territories, which directly affects our vulnerability to access basic social services and to harassment in general.

Correspondingly, we urge UN agencies, media and international partners:

  • To monitor with us the progress and gaps of the member-states in ensuring indigenous youth’s issues and concerns are addressed properly and effectively;
  • To continue to support indigenous youth’s participation to relevant UN and international forums for us to raise issues and concerns facing indigenous youth;
  • For the Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth to implement his work plan in consideration of the issues and concerns specified in this statement and in this meeting in general.

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