By Mustapha Ceesay
The National Youth Parliament (NYP) , also called ‘Youth Parliament’ is a youth-led non- profit, non- partisan youth organization established as an advocacy, development oriented and youth empowerment institution that immensely contribute towards the development of the youth and the proper management of youth welfare through their active participation and involvement in decision-making, and implementation of programmes.
NYP does its youth development advocacy by connecting young people with policy makers, government, private sector, civil society organizations, the media and all the relevant stakeholders to discuss issues affecting young people, and find solutions to them, operating in various thematic areas of Good Governance and Democracy, Reproductive Health, Environmental Protection, Gender Mainstreaming, Migration, Peace-building, Interfaith, Road Safety etc.
The Youth Parliament’s advocacy modalities include its regional and national sittings, capacity building, sensitization tours, Radio and TV talk-shows, Inter-Party dialogues, seminars, election observation, voter education, etc.
The youth-led organization has offices across the 7 administrative areas of the country referred to as ‘regional parliament’ that comprise the elected National Parliamentarians from all the constituencies of the Region; and also a nominated young woman, aged 15 to 35.
For smooth and effective functioning, the organisation has a Secretariat with an Office of Regional Clerk in each region.
The Secretariat (executive), headed by the Clerk of the National Youth Parliament, comprises non-elected staff that include the office of National and Regional Clerks, Deputy National Clerk, National Programme Officer, National Communications Officer and National Finance Officer.
Persons appointed at the Secretariat must be between 18 and 35 years of age bracket, according to Section 32.
The NYP aims to promote active participation of the youth in national and local development efforts and initiatives; as well as promote understanding, unity, culture of peace and cooperation among the youth of The Gambia; and advocate for the inclusion of the youth and matters affecting them in national governance and public affairs, and the consideration of youth-specific needs in all policy areas, among others, stated Section 5 of its constitution.
The Constitution of the Youth Parliament 2022, Section 4, mandates it to have persuasive authority and serve as both a mouthpiece and platform for the youth of The Gambia, champion their causes, and advocate issues affecting those youth; by engaging with duty bearers and other stakeholders for greater fulfilment of their rights and aspirations.
Vision and mission
The Youth-led organisation has a vision and mission clearly written in Section 2 (1 and 2) of its constitution referred to as the ‘2022 Constitution of the National Youth Parliament’.
Section 2 (1) of the ‘Constitution of the National Youth Parliament 2022 states: “The vision of the National Youth Parliament – The Gambia shall be: “A Gambia with effective youth participation in leadership and national development.”
And Section 2 (2) of the Constitution states: “The mission of NYP shall be: ‘Building a better Gambia with effective participation of informed and capacitized young people contributing towards national development through principle-centred leadership development and advocacy’.”
The National Youth Parliament-The Gambia comprised of 64 members or representatives who come from the country’s 53 constituencies, the 7 administrative regions (Banjul, Kanifing Municipality, North bank Region, Lower River Region, Central River Region, and Upper River Region), and organisations of Persons with Disabilities (PWD), and the civil society.
“53 representatives shall be elected by youth between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five years from constituencies in the seven administrative areas, with one Representative from each constituency;
“7 young women representatives, one nominated from each region, and who shall be between the ages of 15 and 35 years;
“2 youth Representatives, male and female, nominated by the Gambia Federation of the Disabled;
“(The) Speaker and Deputy Speaker who shall be elected from among the representatives, or the incumbents in the case of elections,” said Section 8 (1-4).
Omar [Champion] Cham is the Speaker and Hon. Degen Jobe is Deputy Speakerof the 9th Legislature of the National Youth Parliament 2022-2025.
Criteria for election
The 64 members of the parliament are elected at constituency, regional, administrative, and organisational levels upon fulfilment of the criteria for the election of members of the parliament.
The Constitution of the parliament states, a person shall be qualified for elections to the National Youth Parliament if he or she:
“1. is a citizen of the Gambia;
“2. has attained the age of 15 years, and is not more than 35 years;
“3. is a native of the constituency he or she is seeking election;
“4. is nominated by a youth organization registered with the Regional Youth Committee or the National Youth Council;
“5. is literate and can communicate with a satisfactory degree of proficiency sufficient to enable him or her to take part in the proceedings of the Youth Parliament and report back to the people he or she represents;
“6. is not in trouble with the law for any offence; (and)
“7. is a former member of the Children National Assembly of The Gambia (CNAG),” Section 9 (1-7) stated.
Experience in youth work and civil society engagement, availability, commitment, and non-partisanship are additional qualifications for the election of a person to the National Youth Parliament, at the constituency, regional, administrative, and organisational levels.
Who elects NYP members?
The representatives of the National Youth Parliament are elected by the delegates of the Electoral College of each administrative area in accordance with Section 9.
An Electoral College comprises qualified individual members of the organisation, nominated contestants from youth-led organisations, and former members of the Children National Assembly, among others.
“1. The Electoral College shall comprise the following: a. all individual members of the National Youth Parliament who satisfy the relevant criteria for membership and are natives of the constituency they wish to vote in; b. All nominated contestants from youth-led organisations in the constituency who have registered with the Regional Youth Committee or the National Youth Council; c. Former members of the Children National Assembly;
“2. Youth led organisations shall elect one male and one female, to take part in the Electoral Congress at the regional level;
“3. Each region shall have its own Electoral College which shall elect the members of the Regional Parliament;
“4. Only representatives from each constituency to the Electoral College shall vote and be voted for as Parliamentarian of that constituency;
“5. The venue for the election at the Electoral College level shall be within the Region and shall be determined by the Secretariat,” Section 14, 2022 Constitution of the National Youth Parliament states.
Tenure of Office
The tenure of a member of the National Youth Parliament lasts for three (3) years, as per section 12 of the constitution
Like the main national elections, elections of the members of the Youth Parliament are conducted by the Independent Electoral Commission shall conduct election to the National Youth Parliament every three years as stipulated in its election rules for the Parliament.
“1. A member of the National Youth Parliament, unless disqualified under Section 11, resigns or dies, shall maintain his/her seat for a period of three years;
“2. A member of the National Youth Parliament may be re-elected for a second and final term only, (and);
“3. A member of the National Youth Parliament who has attained 35 years prior to the end of his or her term of office shall serve the rest of his or her term,” section 1-3 of the constitution said.
The National Youth Parliament holds regular and extraordinary meetings or sessions, and its regular sessions are held bi-annually come (twice a year).
The Parliament, ahead of the meetings or sessions, which are open to the public, determined the place and time of the regular and extraordinary meetings.
The Speaker presides over proceedings of the Youth Parliament. In the absence of the speaker, the Deputy speaker takes charge, and whereas both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are absent, a member elected by the parliament presides over proceedings.
Before any session of the National Youth Parliament starts, “two thirds (2/3) of the members and subsequently one half of all the members must be present”, if the business of the parliament is to commence, stated section 22.
The 64 members of the 9th Legislature of the National Youth Parliament 2022-2025 elected at constituency, regional, administrative, and organisational levels upon fulfilment of the criteria for the election of members of the parliament.
Relationship with National Assembly
The NYP’s relationship with the National Assembly (NA) is cordial and professional. The two Parliaments collaborate to implement programmes that are geared towards national development.
The National Assembly plays the role of guardianship and mentorship to the NYP and provides the necessary support for the NYP sittings and parliamentary proceedings.
A staff of the National Assembly drafted the Standing Orders of the NYP; and the Parliamentary proceedings training for NYP members was also conducted by a National Assembly staff.
Members of the National Assembly equally collaborate with National Youth Parliamentarians in their constituencies and give them the required guidance.
The Youth Parliament held its First ordinary session of the 9th Legislature at the National Assembly complex in Banjul from 29th to 31st August 2022, as the inaugural session marking the official introduction of its new 64 members, following the reformation.
Key matters discussed by members of the Youth Parliament during the First ordinary session of the 9th Legislature from 29th to 31st August 2022, include the following:
· Need for the reassessment of the national education policies and curriculums
· Irregular migration and youth unemployment in The Gambia
· Illicit drugs and substance abuse among young people in The Gambia
· The prevalence of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in The Gambia
Importance Of Matters discussed
The mentioned matters that the Youth Parliament’s August session discussed (Irregular migration and youth unemployment, illicit drugs and substance abuse, Gender-Based Violence, among others), are of importance to the youth of the country. They either directly or indirectly hamper the lives and welfare of young people of the Gambia.
During the National Youth Parliament 29th to 31st August 2022 session, members of the parliament discussed and came on with the following resolutions that:
• More focus be given to Technical and Vocational and Education Training (TVET) programmes to encourage and increase the employability of youth to start as early as 7th grade to allow students to realize their skills and talent earlier.
• There should be at least a multipurpose TVET school in each of the provincial regions starting with the West Coast Region.
• Information Communication Technology (ICT) be an examinable subject at both WASSCE and GABECE, and that MoBSE should work with WAEC for the realization of this important vision
• The education policy and curriculum address the learning needs of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), especially the teaching of Maths and learning for the visually impaired.
• The government provides more employment opportunities to young people and such youth empowerment and employment opportunities be decentralized.
• The government increases the salary of civil servants to demotivate irregular migration and brain drain.
• Proper psychosocial support be provided to migrant returnees to enable their effective reintegration into society, before any capacity building or financial support to start an entrepreneurial adventure.
• The government of the Gambia implements policies and laws that will protect the lives of young people, and such age restriction laws or policies be strictly implemented that those under 18 years stop taking these drugs.
• The Ministry of Interior and relevant stakeholders introduce drug community policing in every constituency as well as drug rehabilitation centres.
• The government takes serious measures to prosecute drug smugglers and mongers as well as intensify security and border control strengthening.
• The government and concerned stakeholders give the serious health impacts involved, to take drastic actions against the stealth but wide use of Tabaa as even young people are also now believed to be using the chemical substance.
• The government and Ministry of Youth and Sports invest in recreational facilities to help divert the attention and interest of young people from the use of drugs as some see it as recreational.
• Preventive (sensitization) programmes on the dangers of drug abuse be held in schools and communities.
• More vocational training centres to be established for school dropouts to reduce redundancy, which is sometimes believed to be the cause of youths going into drug abuse.
• The government take strict actions on the worrying prevalence of FGM and Child Marriage, especially in rural Gambia as stipulated in the laws.
• The Government strictly implements laws against SGBV.
• Sensitization programmes be carried out across the country to promote awareness on Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
Implementation of resolutions
The mentioned resolutions made at the NYP sessions would be implemented by partnership with the government and relevant stakeholders through a continuous engagement, dialogue and collaboration.
The next sitting of the 64 members of the 9th Legislature of the National Youth Parliament 2022-2025 is scheduled to take place in January 2023.