SHARJAH // Top officials took time out of their busy schedules yesterday to attend a meeting at the Sharjah Rulers Court chaired by a 15-year-old student.
Seated on a raised platform in a chamber lit by chandeliers, the panel were there to address the concerns of 80 newly elected members of Sharjah's Youth Consultative Council, or Majlis Shura al Shabab.
The students took turns asking questions about young people and technology to Colonel Abdullah al Dukhan, the deputy director general of Sharjah Police, Mohammed al Ghanim, the director general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, and Dr Mohammed al Kaabi from the Ministry of Justice.
It was an opportunity Colonel al Dukhan said he did not have himself when he was at school.
"These are our sons now, but in the future the responsibility for the UAE will be on them," he said. "Some of them will go on to senior positions, and so they must be strong and we are training them to speak about the issues."
Mansour al Kitbi was the chairman of the council session. He was seated between Dr al Kaabi, Mr al Ghanim and Col al Dukhan. The newly elected president of the council admitted to being slightly nervous, a sensation which subsided as the session got under way.
"It was such a good experience and we talked about subjects that are very important to the youth," said Mansour, who plans to join the police force when he finishes school to help find "solutions to people's problems".
Throughout the three-hour session, which was launched by Sheikh Essam bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the chairman of the Office of the Ruler of Sharjah, members took turns asking questions that had been submitted ahead of time, speaking through microphones mounted on their desks.
Many of the questions focused on the use of BlackBerries and touched on the security concerns that were highlighted recently when the Government considered blocking the popular service.
Sameha al Mansouri focused her questions on the dangers posed by using mobile phones when driving. The 16-year-old is from Dibba al Hosn, which is an enclave of Sharjah on the east coast.
"I asked them if there is something we can do about this issue. My school is depending on me to raise these issues," she said.
"Absolutely, it is a big responsibility, because I am talking with adults who are in a very high position."
The youth council holds four sessions a year, each devoted to a specific topic or area of concern that is decided upon by the members. Elections for the new council were held last month, when about 4,000 Emirati and expatriate students voted for members - 40 boys and 40 girls - who will serve two-year terms.
The first elections were held in 2004, overseen by the Sharjah Youth Centres, part of the emirate's Supreme Council for Family Affairs.
For Ahmed al Hammadi, general manager of the Sharjah Youth Centres, the council provided students with a platform to voice issues affecting them. "They get an opportunity to say what they need and what they want," he said. "It gives them a voice."
Khawla al Mulla, the manager of the girls department at the Sharjah Supreme Council for Family Affairs, said she was proud to see "strong characters" emerge during yesterday's session.
"I am very happy with how it went," she said, after the session had come to a close. "It is a message for the next generation about how important it is to express your opinions and present them for everyone."
As for Sameha, she was already looking ahead to the rest of her two-year term, during which she planned to raise issues such as female unemployment. "I have courage and I can talk with the people and understand them," she said. "My family are so excited and very proud of me because I'm concerned about my people and my country."