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Established under the National Child and Youth Development Promotion Act of 2007, Children and Youth Councils let local authorities budget and make development plans for young people around the country. However, as council activities have mostly been determined by adults and state authorities, they have yet to receive much interest from their target stakeholders, Thai youth.

For years running, young people - high school and college students -  have shown an avid interest in politics. Many have done so by joining groups like ‘Bad Students’, ‘Free Youth’, and United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration to stage protests and exercise their rights - to be free from wearing school uniforms, to be able to choose their own hairstyles, to express support for political reforms and determine Thailand’s future.

In recent times, some adults have found the demands of youth groups offensive, branding group members political criminals, as can be seen from the endless news reports of prisoners of conscience in Thai jails.

Given the level of political awareness among Thailand’s youth, how is it that so few know that we have a law stipulating that every locality must have a council where young people can express their views and organise activities?

Under the law, everyone below the age of 26 is a registered member of an area Children and Youth Council. Each year, these councils receive millions of baht to spend on solving the problems of young people and promoting youth development. As their budget comes from the state, it is difficult for council members to pursue political agendas that lack state sanction, however.

This report examines the Children and Youth Council in Pathum Thani Province to see whose needs it actually serves.

Netithon Kophachon (right), President of the Rangsit Municipal Children and Youth Council and Vice President of the Pathum Thani Children and Youth Council and Phannipha Klinsaiyut (left), a community development practitioner who oversees the Rangsit Children and Youth Council (Source: Atitaya Phoemphon)

Netithon Kophachon, who serves as the president of the Rangsit Municipal Children and Youth Council and vice president of the Pathum Thani Provincial Children and Youth Council, explains that when he first became involved with local youth activities 5 years ago, he didn’t really know what he was doing.  When he was in Grade 10, a friend invited him to join.  He learned by participating in activities. He eventually became an assistant to the Rangsit council president and was later elected president himself.  In early 2022, he became vice president of the provincial council as well.

Youth councils were not designed as political assemblies. They were created under the Child and Youth Development Promotion Act of 2007, which stipulates that local governments must make plans and allocate funds for the development of young people under their jurisdiction.

According to the law, youth councils have the same hierarchic structure as local government agencies, with branches at the subdistrict, municipal, district, provincial, capital and national levels. Council governance and budgeting, in turn, comes from local, regional and central authorities, including subdistrict and municipality administrative organisations.  The Department of Children and Youth in the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Provincial Shelters for Children and Families, and a number of other youth networks, all help to promote and guide council work.  The goal is to resolve problems and develop policies in support of young people. 

Because of this top-down oversight, it is difficult for council members to pursue issues which their “minders” disagree with, however.  Serving as advisers, district chiefs and provincial governors indirectly control council agendas.

In the case of the Rangsit council, it technically consists of all area youth as stipulated by the law.  It is overseen by a much smaller executive committee which is advised, in turn, by the district chief.  Chiefs can appoint other advisors from governmental and non-governmental agencies as they see fit.

Netithon obtained his positions through democratic means.   He explains that as a result of his work with social movements, he earned the trust of young people who came to participate in the council election and they chose him as president.

“The election didn’t have a campaign like general elections run by adults. We talked about our achievements and showed what we did. We told them about how our participation benefited young people in the area. Many of the kids who chose me as president had worked together with me for years.  They trusted and voted for me.

A 22-year-old, Netithon has considerable experience in the Pathum Thani area. He is currently studying Public Administration at Phranakhon Rajabhat University. 

Reflecting on his time as president, he expressed concern that some members of the working team do not have the courage to express themselves and participate in activities. He also suspects that some just joined the council to get a certificate and don’t really have an interest in the work. 

“When an adult asks us why less than 10 of the 21 members on the executive committee turn up to participate in council planning and projects … it’s very awkward.”

Netithon went on to explain that projects hosted at different administrative levels have their own participation targets. At the subdistrict level, for example, the goal is 50 children. At the district and provincial levels, where activities require budget approval, participant numbers are supposed to be higher.

Municipal activities are budgeted by the Rangsit municipal administration and the Department of Children and Youth. Each year, two or three projects - addressing topics like domestic violence and teen pregnancies - are chosen for funding by participants who vote at annual meetings and divide up the responsibilities amongst themselves. 

What? A council for children?

Phannipha Klinsaiyut, a community development practitioner who currently oversees the Rangsit Municipal Children and Youth Council had previously never heard of the councils. People at a district office near her home talked about them but she had no idea what they were. She thinks that half of all young people don’t know either.

Amina Kase, the manager of Pathum Young Care, a project initiated by educational consulting firm, Influencer – all’s think space, agrees.  In her experience, even many of the active kids who participate in their school student councils don’t know.  Those who do have generally either worked with the council or live in an area where it held activities. As for the rest, she is fairly certain that most would have no clue that they are already council members.

Children and Youth Council structure

All children (newborns to 18 years of age) and young adults (from 18 – 25 years old) whose households are registered in a given subdistrict or municipality. 

An executive committee comprised of a president and a maximum 20 members selected by council members. 

Provided by the Department of Children and Youth in the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, local government, and private sector support. 

Children think, act and lead with adults providing support. 

Authority and Duties 

- Coordinate with youth councils at all levels to exchange knowledge and experience in matters affecting youth. 

- Promote, support and be a centre of learning for local youth on matters related to academics, education, health, sports, employment and culture. 

- Encourage young people to express opinions, especially on topics affecting children and youth, in accordance with their knowledge and capabilities. 

- Stage activities to develop the knowledge, capacity and ethics of young people in local communities. 

- Collect data and suggestions from local youth; evaluate matters affecting local youth on behalf of the district council. 

- Propose activities to relevant agencies to help area youth develop and overcome problems. 

- Provide the district council with suggestions on how best to help local youth. 

- Provide the Committee on State Agency Operations, private firms, and organisations working on children’s issues with suggestions on how to help local youth. 

- Issue regulations related to council meetings and operations in accordance with the orders of the subdistrict and municipal council executive committees. 

All above must be undertaken in accordance with National Children and Youth Council of Thailand regulations.

How does a youth council work?

Netithon explains that council officers and members meet to propose projects they are interested in doing and then vote on which to do using a Line group. Members can propose new projects or suggest old ones that have been done before.  Selected projects sometimes don’t get approved if the budget is too high, however.  As an example of a successful project, he recalled a project to promote awareness at educational institutions about the dangers of cigarette smoking. 

According to Phannipha, councils also convene and coordinate with each other after receiving a budget for a specific purpose, like an allocation from the National Health Security Office to organise a project on preventing teenage pregnancy.

“Some participants asked whether the project could be modified to address violent behaviour among young people, since our area has a lot of problems there. I encourage them to participate, get them to vote. I’m like a sitter who offers advice to make sure that things run according to project plans,” she said.

Suphacha Phromsorn, Head of the Pathum Thani Shelter for Children and Families (Source: Atitaya Phoemphon)

Supacha Promsorn, head of the Pathum Thani Shelter for Children and Families, notes that council projects cover a wide range of topics, from workshops to improve public speaking skills through to programmes to develop online businesses for teen mothers. For this latter project, young people planned and implemented the project on their own, even providing teenage mothers with the necessary computer skills training.

Talking about her work with the council, Amina told us that she mostly participates as a speaker, designing her talks to meet the needs of her audience, not just giving them a lecture. Some of those who participate in her project are council members, school kids, who came together to get budget approval for projects they wanted to implement it in their local area. Council kids have also approached her to obtain budget for training purposes.

Community participation

Some have big hopes for youth councils. Chotiwet Uengkliang, chairperson of Social Innovation for Creative Society (SIY Thailand), a private foundation focused on issues affecting the new generation and local administrative organisations, explains that his team is collaborating with ThaiHealth, an NGO that works on public health issues, to develop “model subdistrict administrations that include the participation of youth councils” with 31 local government administrations. 

Local authorities are interested but the project requires that three groups work together - local politicians, district officials and area youth. The gaps between these groups have to be closed.  The members of the old and new generations have to work together.

“Local governments are special. Leaders are elected, in part, because they are committed to area youth. Parents are voters.  But young people will be voters in the future.  Many are very active.  They want the power to change things but often their projects meet with resistance from governmental officials, whose work increases while their pay remains the same.”

According to Chotiwet, the aim is have local governments support the development of youth councils as places where young people can express and discuss their thoughts. In his experience, this support makes it easier for councils to hold activities and coordinate with outside agencies.

“The key to the project is to get young people to participate in designing policies to solve community problems, to create a local community of the future.”

Amina at Pathum Young Care explains that her firm has been funding 30 local youth council projects, at around 30-50 thousand baht per project. Project areas cover 9 health-related topics. They include knowledge-sharing activities to help young people implement their own local projects effectively. Pathum Young Care works closely with the council, providing support as well as a babysitting/chaperon team. 

“With grant support from ThaiHealth, we’ve created a space for Pathum Thani youth to participate in learning activities and develop their local communities. We’ve done a lot of fieldwork in Pathum Thani and recognise that the province still has numerous underfunded schools and a diverse range of people. Some of its children live next to Bangkok, some are kids whose parents work in industrial zone factories, and some still live in agriculture areas … We work within this diversity to create learning exchanges and increase opportunities for area youth as much as possible,” Amina said.

She prefers programmes where children acquire skills through project-based learning. In one project she did with Grade 5 students, for example, children learned on their own about financial management by doing easy evaluations. At first, she was concerned that they might not be able to do it but the kids thought it was fun and went on to teach friends at other schools as well.

Despite some notable successes, youth councils have yet to receive much public interest. Netithon and Phannipha agree that an improved public relations campaign is needed to attract more participation from area youth.

Youth councils in context – are young people really encouraged to participate?

On another level, people might think that youth councils are little more than forums for letting adults determine the direction of youth development - not really spaces where everything starts from the thoughts children at all. A top-down approach is embedded in the Child and Youth Development Promotion Act, which clearly stipulates that council operations shall follow state guidelines.

And although councils are supposed to employ democratic methods, the state regularly stops young people from coming together to exercise their democratic right to protest. Laws protect the safety of young people who are encouraged to respect the rights and freedom of others.  But our regulations and rules come from governments illegal formed by coup-makers.

At every step, every stage, youth councils are under the governance of state officials. As such, councils are not spaces for children to independently use their creativity.

Perhaps those working with councils at all levels should remember this when thinking about why young people have so little interest in participating their forums.

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