Every child and young person has the right to speak up and have their views taken seriously, but until now the voices of young people in Wales have lacked a national platform. I am thrilled to welcome the first meeting of the Youth Parliament for Wales on the 23rd of February this year. This emphasises and enhances the commitment that the Welsh Government made to the UNCRC in ensuring that every child across Wales receive and understand their rights, including their right to have a say in the decisions that affect them.
This new and exciting moment in the political history of Wales not only fulfils young people’s right to take part in decisions that affect them, but I expect it to help us as a nation to make better decisions. It ensures that politicians realise the importance of young people’s voices and how these voices can help us shape a better future. From my own organisation, to schools, health boards and local authorities, many have benefited from realising that young people are skilled in bringing fresh perspectives and ideas to improve the world they live in. The Youth Parliament will be an opportunity to nurture and develop these ideas on a national level and will be a forum for politicians and other organisations to take their opinions into account on policies that affect them now and in the future.
The young people of Wales have truly embraced this opportunity with almost 500 candidates standing for the 40 regional seats. An incredible number, showing how young people value this opportunity. Importantly the Youth Parliament will be diverse, representing the true picture of young people in Wales. It is refreshing to see a balanced gender split in this venture, with thirty-five female members and twenty-five male members. The National Assembly team supporting the Youth Parliament has also made sure that young people form diverse and sometimes excluded groups have the opportunity to take part through the 20 seats given to partner organisations.
The Youth Parliament will give young people a stage to voice their opinions on matters that are important to them. As a part of the process to be elected each candidate was asked to identify three key issues they would like to address. It was no surprise at all to see mental health issues being raised the most by candidates. Other issues such as having a curriculum that teaches them life skills, the impact of single-use plastic on our environment, poverty and homelessness, bullying and lowering the voting age were also given a lot of attention. These young candidates have shown great maturity in the issues they have chosen to discuss, drawing attention to matters that affect children and young people in Wales today as well as the adults around them.
I look forward to exploring with them how they wish to hold me as the Children’s Commissioner to account on how well I am working to resolve issues facing children and young people in Wales. This will hopefully be the beginning of a long and constructive relationship. We are breaking exciting and important new ground with creating the Youth Parliament, and with the possibility of lowering the voting age to sixteen, the importance of young people’s views are clearly being recognised. These new young parliamentarians want to discuss the issues that matter to them with politicians, and want those politicians to listen to what they have to say. By recognising the important role that young people in Wales can play as citizens, we can start to work seriously towards a better and more agreeable future for all generations.