One of the essential visions of Youth Empowerment and All Dreams Foundation is the education young people. Part of this education programme is to enlighten the youths of their fundamental human rights, without which there will be no sustainable empowerment. Young people, like every other human being in the society, have got some rights. These rights must be recognized and respected by all.
From my personal observation and with my encounter with a good number of young people, it is obvious that most of our youths do not even know that they have right in their society. Ignorance of these fundamental human rights has led to so many abuses and deprivations. The aim of this reflection is to enlighten the youths of their fundamental human rights and to encourage them to make good use of these rights when and where necessary.
‘Right’ is what one is legally, morally and spiritually allowed to do, to say or possess. It is a natural license which guarantees human’s freedom. Every human being in this world has got a right. The right which every human being, including the youths, share in common is known as Human Rights. Fundamental human rights are inherent with our nature as human being. According to the UN General, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” The youths are among the human beings with this equal right and dignity.
Freedom is the essence of human right. Without freedom there will be no human right and without human rights there will be no liberty. Human right suffers where and when freedom is denied. According to Roosevelt, “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them” (Franklin D. Roosevelt). The best support anyone can give to the youths is to ensure that their fundamental rights are guaranteed. The UN general Assembly released thirty articles on fundamental human rights. Some of the articles that are related to the youths are:
Right to Life: Life is sacred. By right every human being is entitled to a befitting life.  In Article 3 of the Universal Declaration on Human Right, the UN general Assembly declares, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Life must be cherished and nurtured by all. No one is allowed to destroy life. According to St. Pope John Paul II, “…all human life — from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages — is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God.” Besides, the 5th commandment states, “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).
Most of the terrorist attacks in our world today are being executed by the youths. Vulnerable youths are offered money in exchange of life. Most of the suicide bombers are young people. In Nigeria, for instance, thousands of young people have lost their lives due to all kinds of insurgencies. The so-called Boko Harram has claimed the lives of so many innocent souls. Young people must be reminded again and again that just as they have the right to life others equally have the same right. Suicide, abortion, Euthanasia, murder and all forms of killings are against this fundamental human right.
Right to fair hearing: Nicodemus once asked his fellow Jews, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7:51). This question was answered in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” The worst and most painful act of injustice is to condemn people without hearing from them.
Most young people are languishing in prisons without fair hearing. A good number of them have even spent years on awaiting trials. Yet, the Article 11 declares, “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.” This is one of the Articles that have been violated by most nations where human rights are often neglected.
Freedom from Torture: There are so many illegal forms of torture going on in the society. The most barbaric ones are the ones people go through in the hands of kidnappers. People who are held hostage go through all kinds of tortures. Another inhuman form of torture is the one suspects go through in the hands of policemen. Whereas the Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ was not only against torture He also condemned all kinds of retaliations. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, ‘Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39). Imagine how this world would be if people start practicing what Jesus Christ taught. The world will be free of torture, unnecessary punishment and degrading treatment.
Freedom from Slavery: Human beings are born free. No one is born with chains. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right states: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” St. Paul condemned all forms of slavery. According to him, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship” (Romans 8:14-15). Youths should not in any way be given out for slavery or servitude. It is against their fundamental human right.
Freedom of Opinion and Expression: If you are a young man or a young woman you are not expected to die in silence. You must voice out when and where necessary. Without expressing yourself freely no one would know what you have in mind. That is why the UN General Assembly declares in Article 19, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Freedom of expression, however, is not the license to talk nonsense or to jeopardize other people’s image.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association: A good number of young people have been forced to join one secret cult or another. Some who joined and have realized their mistakes are finding it very difficult to quite due to threats. No one has the right to compel you to join any group against your will. The 20th Article states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” Hence, “No one may be compelled to belong to an association.” You are free to choose the kind of association you want to belong. You are equally free to quite at any time of your choice.
Right to Education: The most important right, I supposed, that has to do with young people is the right to education. Knowledge is power. Education is the channel through which knowledge and empowerment are acquired. The 26th Article states, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Most nations in Africa are yet to provide free and compulsory education. Even when they do they feel they are doing people favour whereas education is a fundamental human right.
The article further states, “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.” In addition, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” Education is indeed the surest path to youth development and empowerment.
These are some of the fundamental human rights which I believe every youth must be familiar with. The knowledge of one’s right is the knowledge of one’s freedom. Without these rights there will be no freedom. Remember, heaven help those who help themselves.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to know your right and be courageous enough to walk within the framework of your right. As you do so, freedom and happiness will be yours, in Jesus name – Amen!