It is now beyond contestation that the rights of youths globally are under grave threat mostly by states. Due to these apparent threats, the global community through the United Nations over the years has tried to proffer solutions to the problems confronting the youth rights generally and the youths’ human rights to political participation.
At the regional level, various attempts have been made to tackle the problems faced by the youths, especially regarding their marginalisation in the scheme of things in society. The most profound of the steps taken at the regional level is the codification of the human rights of youths in legally-binding documents. This has been done by both the African Union and the Ibero-American Community.
However, due to the challenge of ineffectiveness of mechanisms both at the global and regional levels, the human rights challenges facing the youths globally remain largely the same, if not worse.
Consequently, this thesis examines the human rights of the youths, in general, and their rights to political participation as guaranteed by global, regional, sub-regional and national human rights laws. Using Nigeria as a case study, this thesis establishes that despite the existence of the human rights to political participation guaranteed to the youth under various human rights regimes; there has been an ongoing trend to conflate youth and children rights in laws and policies relating to youth, usually leading to their rights to political participation being partly guaranteed, undermined or denied globally.
The thesis demonstrates that while a conflation of youth and children rights may exist in other climes, it is incontestable that in Africa children and the youths are two distinct groups of persons, and arguably the African society is basically divided into adults and children, and the youth certainly do not belong to the category of children but rather that of adults. This thesis argues that the age restriction laws in most African states that bar most youths from exercising their human rights to political participation to stand as candidates in elections violate their rights, are in contradistinction to states’ human rights obligations, and antithetical to African traditions and ethos.
This thesis points out the capability inherent in the African Youth Charter in ensuring the respect, protection and promotion of youth rights and particularly their rights to political participation in countries of Africa. Apart from that, there is a need for concerted efforts towards finding lasting solutions to the challenges of the youths globally.
These efforts would take the forms of agreeing on the ‘start-up’ age for youths; the proposition of a legally-binding definition of a youth; the codification of a global treaty on youth rights; and the establishment of a reporting or monitoring mechanism on youth rights. The existence of these reforms would have significant beneficial effects at both the national and regional levels.
At the African Union, there is an urgent need for the African Youth Charter to be redrafted to reflect the reality of the African people and to be able deliver on its various promises. The redrafted African Youth Charter should clearly exclude children in its categorisation of youths. It should specifically grant to the youths the right to vote and to stand as candidates in elections, and provide for a specific or multiple reporting mechanisms. These steps are necessary if the rights and development of the youths are to be respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled in Africa.