The Situation of the World’s Indigenous Children and Youth
Indigenous children and youth have much to contribute to the world as empowered individuals with a profound understanding of their Indigenous identity, cultural heritage, sustainable living and connection to their lands and territories. At the same time, many Indigenous youth face immense challenges as a result of the intergenerational effects of colonisation and assimilation policies, as well as the continued struggles to ensure their rights and identity as Indigenous Peoples. Often, Indigenous youth are confronted with the hard choice between maintaining their roots in the Indigenous community – or pursuing education and employment in cities far from home, which further exposes them to risks of both physical and emotional violence. In fact, it is often said that Indigenous Peoples walk in two worlds, with all the struggles and challenges this implies. At the same time, Indigenous youth experience much higher rates of suicide and self-harm compared to other youth.
Indigenous youth and children face many further challenges, including:
- Lack of culturally appropriate education in their own languages
- Illiteracy and drop-out rates
- Forced relocation and loss of land
- Environmental pollution
- Incarceration and lack of legal protection
- Armed conflict
- Massive migration towards the cities
- Traffic and sexual exploitation
- Lack of healthcare services
- Suicide and self-harm
While struggling with the above challenges, many Indigenous youth are organising themselves in youth organisations to improve these conditions and ensure that their rights are respected and promoted.
At a global level, the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus typically convenes during the UNPFII session to discuss and give guidance on issues related particularly to Indigenous youth and children.
Read more about the caucus and follow its activities throughout the year here.
Moreover, Indigenous youth are working as agents of change at the forefront of some of the most pressing crises facing humanity today. Since colonization, Indigenous youth have been faced with ever-changing environments not only culturally in modern societies, but in the traditional context as well. While living in two worlds is becoming harder as the world changes, Indigenous youth are harnessing cutting-edge technologies and developing new skills to offer solutions and contribute to a more sustainable, peaceful future for our people and planet. Their representation and participation in global efforts towards climate change mitigation, peacebuilding and digital cooperation are crucial for the effective implementation of the right of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination, and to their enjoyment of collective and individual human rights, the promotion of peaceful co-existence, and ensuring equality of all.
"Indigenous knowledge and traditions are deeply rooted in sustainable development and can help to solve many of our common challenges. It is therefore vital that young Indigenous Peoples, both women and men, are involved in decision-making. The choices made today will determine the world of tomorrow."
- UN Secretary-General, António Guterres
The International Human Rights Framework for Indigenous Children and Youth
The rights of Indigenous children and youth are recognized, implicitly and explicitly, in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the World Declaration and Plan of Action for the Survival, Protection and Development of Children, the Declaration of the World Summit for Children and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These rights include the right to employment, education, health and housing, freedom of expression as well as the protection of social and cultural rights, such as learning and speaking traditional languages.
Specifically, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) protects the rights of Indigenous children and youth. Article 21 and 22 of the Declaration call for particular attention to Indigenous children and youth, when implementing the UN Declaration – and when taking measures to improve the economic and social conditions of Indigenous Peoples. Further, the Declaration gives the right to live in freedom, peace and security including protecting children from being removed from their group by force (Article 7.2), the right to all levels of education without discrimination (Article 14.2), the right to be protected from economic exploitation or hazardous work and the right to be protected for violence and discrimination (Article 22.2).
The Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) covers Indigenous children and youth and include specific references to Indigenous children in ensuring their access to diverse media in their languages (Article 17.d), to education that is non-discriminatory (Article 29.d) and the right to own culture, religion and language (Article 30).
International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples 2023
On the occasion of the 2023 International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, commemorated annually on 9 August, the priority theme focused on "Indigenous Youth as Agents of Change for Self-determination."
The UNDESA virtual commemoration included the participation of invited speakers and a moderator. Speakers shared their expertise and experience from their Indigenous Peoples’ communities in the role of Indigenous youth in exercising self-determination, particularly in the context of climate action and the green transition; mobilizing for justice; and intergenerational connections.
Click here for further information on the event as well as different resources, news items and messages.
UN Documents - References to Indigenous Children and Youth
- Committee on the Rights of the Child: General comment No. 26 (2023) on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change (CRC/C/GC/26)
Adolescent-friendly UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - The Declaration explains how the rights of Indigenous Peoples – including Indigenous young people – are to be protected by governments around the world. It applies to Indigenous Peoples as individuals and as a group. Indigenous young people were actively involved in the development of UNDRIP and they are working hard to make sure governments implement it. Download Publication (English)
Convention on the Rights of the Child: The Children's Version
Convention on the Rights of the Child: General Comment No.11 on Indigenous Children and their Rights under the Convention (2009)
Compilation of UNPFII Recommendations on Indigenous Children and Youth
Opportunities and Resources for Indigenous Youth