Brussels, 25 February 2021/OACPS: 150 youngsters from Benin, Romania and Rwanda, the last three regions to host live Youth Conferences, were invited to debate remotely with Members of Parliament at the ACP – EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA) Youth Conference on the COVID-19 pandemic. Rosemary Mbabazi, Hon. Minister of Youth Affairs of Rwanda delivered the opening address for the panel which was co-chaired by Polish MEP Jadwiga Wisniewska, JPA EU Vice-President with co-responsibility for youth issues, and Edda Mukabagwiza, JPA member from Rwanda with long-standing experience in youth issues.

The debate, with the theme of “The COVID-19 pandemic and its implications and impact on youth”, was an occasion for the youth to discuss their ideas on how to create a better future, in particular during the COVID-19 pandemic. The exchange of views also aimed to raise awareness among young people of the importance of the work and impact of the multilateral assembly and of local cooperation.

In her introductory remarks, Minister Mbabazi set the scene against which the debate took place, summarizing the impacts of the pandemic on a national scale and the actions taken by the Government to curb the spread and contain its impact. Praising the resilient spirit of the youth who make up over 70% of the Rwandan population, she also shared the actions by the youth across diverse industries to surmount the challenges, pointing out that, “It is also an opportunity to work together, enrich each other, share the skills you have with others, leverage on technology to make what previously seemed unattainable, possible.”

The youngsters in attendance, raised a number of issues, including ways to safeguard mental health during the pandemic, consideration of how to improve the standard of online education, the worsening plight of the homeless, the additional pressure put on the labour market by COVID-19, the challenges of handicapped persons which had been exacerbated during the pandemic. There was, however, at least one positive outcome – the reduction in youth mortality due to road deaths as a result of the lockdowns.

Minister Mbabazi, in her closing remarks, wrapped up the main points of the debate and urged the youth to get involved and use their power to effect change.

Youth Conferences are regularly organised, to give voice to the new generations and offer the opportunity for them to share their ideas, hopes and needs. Young people from universities, high schools, youth associations and other organisations are invited to attend the Conference in places where the Assembly session is held. The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily affected the younger generations and hampered their freedom, social life, studies and consequently their future.