As world population nears 7 billion, top UN official vows to focus on surging youth

UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin

1 February 2011 – With the world’s population slated to top the milestone 7 billion mark by late 2011, the new head of the United Nations agency that helps countries use population data for policies to reduce poverty pledged today to focus on the largest global youth generation ever.

“Investing in youth, their reproductive health and gender equality can help put countries on a path to accelerated economic growth and equitable development,” UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said in his first address to the UN Development Programme (UNDP)/UNFPA Executive Board.

“A world approaching a population of 7 billion is marked by new dynamics to which UNFPA must support countries to respond,” he added of the agency mandated to assisting States with reproductive and maternal health, and population development.

“UNFPA will place a special emphasis on today’s large generation of young people… Every person should enjoy human rights and human dignity, and have the opportunity to make the most of his or her potential,” he said, citing rapid urban growth in Africa and Asia, declining fertility with variance across regions – with Africa home to the highest birth rates – unprecedented ageing, and the world’s largest youth population.

There are an estimated 1.8 billion adolescents and youth in the world today, accounting for nearly a third of the world’s population, with just below 90 per cent living in developing countries, a proportion that will increase during the next 20 years. “They need increased support, and they want freedom, participation and dignity,” he said.

Advancing the right to sexual and reproductive health remains at the heart of UNFPA, Dr. Osotimehin declared. “To garner greater progress, we will advocate for investments by countries and donors for a comprehensive package of integrated sexual and reproductive health services, as well as comprehensive sexuality education.”

He reaffirmed UNFPA’s core principles that “every person has the right to sexual and reproductive health, every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person has the education and services to grow up healthy, every girl is treated with dignity and respect, and violence against women should and can end.”

A former Nigerian health minister with wide experience in fighting HIV/AIDS, Dr. Osotimehin, who has also served as African spokesperson for the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, became UNFPA’s fourth Executive Director on 1 January, succeeding Thoraya Ahmed Obaid.


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