Dozens of Finnish municipalities have neglected or failed to meet their legal obligation to establish youth councils.
According to a report by the Union of Youth Councils (Nuorisovaltuustojen Liitto), 65 municipalities have not taken any measures to set up youth councils required by the new Local Government Act introduced in 2015.
Municipalities were given a two-year transition period to set up local youth councils or other participatory groups. This transition period came to an end at the beginning of June.
"Unfortunately we still have municipalities that don’t see youth participation as a priority. Hopefully the new law will change attitudes. Youth councils are not a chore but can add a lot of value," said union chair Kimi Uosukainen.
Lethargy and lack of resources
Some smaller municipalities say they have struggled to assemble a youth council because locals have simply not been interested.
Last fall the municipalities of Vironlahti and Miehikkälä organised upper comprehensive schoolers an info session with youth council members from Hamina and local youth workers.
Seven young people signed up in Miehikkälä, but in neighbouring Vironlahti only one did.
"It’s hard to say why we didn’t get more interest. Perhaps the general opinion had something to do with it or the youth didn’t understand what they could actually achieve by participating," said Vironlahti’s Chief of Recreation Sari Rasi.
Rasi remains hopeful. Local youth work has managed to generate interest in youth participation among 9th graders, and Rasi believes this will translate into more young people signing up for youth councils in the fall.
Another municipality, Iitti, had to place its youth council on ice, because the majority of its members left to study elsewhere. This fall, Iitti will replace its youth council with workshops where young people can collaborate with city officials and decision makers.
"We came up with this solution because I’m the only youth worker in our municipality, and my hands are already full of work," youth worker Tanja Lehtimäki said.
A survey by the Union of Youth Councils reveals youth council members feel the dismissive attitudes of decision makers is the biggest hindrance to participation.
"Decision makers could get acquainted with youth participation in, for example, student councils if youth councils are not available. Working together is a good way to dissolve prejudice", chairman Kimi Uosukainen suggested.
Uosukainen emphasises that the youth council clause in the Local Government Act gives young people an equal chance to participate in local government and get their voices heard.
"Youth councils have been trailblazers for all kinds of community participation. Young people have usually been the first ones to call for more openness in decision-making."