Beyond photo ops – advancing youth participation in government

Kevin Eustatia-Palm (20) is one of nine members of the Youth Advisory Committee. As a child growing up in Curaçao he was often punished for asking questions and speaking his mind. Today he and his fellow committee members are the voice of the youth in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ policy process. ‘I think it’s strange that a kid should get in trouble for asking questions’, Kevin says.

Kevin Eustatia-Palm

In addition to recently being selected as a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Youth Advisory Committee, Kevin is also a full-time student pursuing a degree in public administration, a teaching assistant, the president of his student association and the treasurer of a political youth organisation. ‘I don’t really have any free time,’ he admits with a laugh. ‘I’ve always been busy with something. When I was little it was scouts. Later it was the debate club at school and the Youth Parliament in Curaçao.’

A rebellious child

Kevin has been living in the Netherlands since 2020, but he grew up Curaçao and that’s where he first became interested in youth representation. Kevin explains that in Curaçaoan culture young people aren’t encouraged to speak their minds, and doing so is often frowned upon. ‘But I was a bit of a rebellious child, always asking questions and voicing my opinions,’ says Kevin. And this is something he was regularly punished for. ‘Sometimes I’d have to stay after school for asking the teacher a question. And at home I’d be disciplined for opening my mouth because kids are supposed to keep quiet when adults are talking. But I never would. I think it’s strange that a kid should get in trouble for asking questions.’

At the age of 17 Kevin was elected to the Youth Parliament in Curaçao. Elections are held every two years, when people between the ages of 14 and 25 take to the polls to decide who will represent the youth of Curaçao. Kevin describes how, in his capacity as member of the Youth Parliament, he got to speak with government officials, MPs and representatives of NGOs, businesses and other organisations, giving voice to views of young people. He says it was one of the most instructive periods in his life. ‘I learned so much about communication, our system of government and how to engage with ministers,’ he says. ‘But above all I learned how difficult it can be to truly represent young people. As a youth parliament, we had to fight really hard to have any meaningful impact. It’s not as easy as you might expect.’

youth parliament Curacao
At the age of 17 Kevin was elected to the Youth Parliament in Curaçao.

Beyond photo ops

In nearly every organisation Kevin ran up against the same obstacle. He noticed that young people were often just brought in for photo op purposes. ‘They’d act as if our views mattered, whereas in actuality they weren’t ever taken into account. Decisions would be made behind closed doors and presented as if that was what young people wanted,’ Kevin explains. ‘There’s no point in finding out what young people think unless we can give voice to their views and ensure that what they have to say will actually be taken into account.’

Kevin sees this as a major challenge for young people worldwide. He thinks people need to do better at listening to what they have to say and that young people should be part of the conversation at all levels without being dismissed simply because of their age. ‘This is one of the main things standing in our way – people cannot see past our age to realise that our questions and opinions are valid.’

Kevin faced this challenge in high school too. ‘Members of the student council were given the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns about teaching methods, the administration and school policy. But nothing was ever done with this information. Merely letting young people in the room does not necessarily guarantee them a seat at the table.’

Kevin at One Year Youth at Heart
Kevin shared his thoughts on meaningful youth participation during the event ‘One Year Youth at Heart’.

Golden opportunity

Kevin hopes that the Youth Advisory Committee, initiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Youth Council (NJR), will serve as an example of meaningful youth participation. Kevin sees this as a golden opportunity. ‘I hope that through the Youth Advisory Committee we can show that the views of young people are more than just valuable, they are essential.’

Kevin is one of ten international members of the Youth Advisory Committee selected to give advice and be part of the ministry’s policy dialogue. The committee will focus on topics such as education, work and youth participation. Kevin is in regular contact with his fellow committee members. ‘They are such amazing people,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘We have a group chat, and we’re also in touch with one another individually. We’re already all friends. It’s impressive how knowledgeable and talented everyone is and the experience they all have. I have no doubt that we’ll be able to achieve great things!’