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By Kris Leua Wansolwara Online (USP)

SUVA, Fiji Islands (August 11, 2001 - Wansolwara Online/Pasifik Nius): Political parties contesting Fiji's general election this month have "sidelined" the needs of the country's youth in their manifestos, claims a youth activist.

"The needs of youth in this country have often been sidelined and youth participation at decision-making level is virtually nonexistent, " the Fiji NGO Youth Network's Ms. Mere Yabaki told a two-day media election seminar today.

She said the education system in Fiji only focused on formal aspects and failed to address other areas where the talents of youth could be used.

"There needs to be a framework in place to look at the concerns of youth on important issues such as education, employment opportunities and mandatory sentences," said Ms. Yabaki.

This would help youth if they could not find jobs straight away.

The education system did not provide a broad enough scope to allow for other skills and talents to be developed, she said.

"If you take musical and artistic talents as examples, there is virtually nothing in the political manifestos to nurture or further develop these skills.

"This is rather sad.

"There is also discrimination between the urban and the rural youth in terms of employment.

"In terms of mandatory sentences, there needs to be a system that will investigate the issues that compelled youth to do things such as drug-related offences, juvenile crime and other petty crimes."

Perhaps there should be an alternative system in place where juvenile crimes were treated differently rather than penalizing youth on the same basis as adults, she said.

"The media is contributing to this by often painting a rather stigmatized image of youth in news reporting," Ms. Yabaki said.

"We are now witnessing news reporting that bears down largely on the image of youth in criminal and violent activities. This does not have to be so.

"Perhaps the media should re-address this by focusing more on the issues that question why youth are involved in such acts."

Questioned by Wansolwara Online on what she thought about a proposal for a National Youth Council made by one of the political parties at the seminar, Ms Yabaki said:

"That's a positive move. I would like to see this materialize into something rather than what we are in now -- fragmented youth organisations with overlapping interests."

The seminar, organized by the Pacific Islands Broadcasting Association (PIBA) and Pacific Concerns Resource Center (PCRC), will end tomorrow.

Title -- 3320 YOUTH: Fiji's political leaders 'sideline' youth needs Date -- 11 August 2001 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Wansolwara Online, 11/8/1 Copyright -- USP Journalism Status -- Unabridged

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