Statement to the Third Committee of the General Assembly

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,

It is a special pleasure to address the Third Committee this morning.

First, Mr. Chairman, I congratulate you and the other Bureau members on your elections. My Department and I look forward to working with you.


World leaders at the recent Summit on the MDGs agreed on an Action Agenda to help guide our priorities and actions from now through 2015.

In this process, your Committee bears an important responsibility in working towards an effective and sustainable implementation. This requires inclusive policies that put people at the centre of development. Policies that reduce unemployment, fight poverty and lessen social injustice. Policies that pursue a society for all.

Yet the challenges loom large. This Committee meets as the world recovers – slowly – from the global financial and economic crisis, food and fuel crises.

The social impacts of the crises persist. Employment rates in advanced economies are expected to return to pre-crisis levels only by 2015. In developing countries, millions of workers have been pushed to vulnerable employment. Poverty reduction has slowed. Education and nutrition initiatives have been set back.

In implementing the MDG Action Agenda, I urge this Committee to consider social integration and cohesion as central to its deliberations.

Those among the world’s poorest are often not adequately included in the planning and budgetary processes of MDG programmes. In fact, the achievement of sustained social development cannot be realized if the needs and challenges of social groups are not addressed.

Issues such as:

…these are all central to the well-being of persons in all social groups.

Allow me to briefly outline challenges facing older persons and how we must address them.

As you know, the world’s population is ageing rapidly. In 1980 there were 378 million people in the world aged 60 and older. In the last 30 years that figure has more than doubled – to 759 million in 2010. It is due to rise to 2 billion by 2050.

This is a dramatic increase that we cannot ignore. Let’s be clear. There is a price to pay for neglecting both the challenges and opportunities of ageing populations. That price is increased vulnerability – both for today’s older persons, and for the future of younger generations.

A key step governments can take to address this situation is to grant universal access to social services. Without a “social protection floor”, the proportion of older persons, especially women, living in poverty will increase. On a global level, fewer than 20 per cent of older persons are covered by public pensions. Increases in contributory and social pensions are needed to enable decent standards of living in old age and to allow older persons to be more active participants in society.

Mr. Chairman,

May I take this opportunity to welcome the new UN organization for gender equality – UN Women. The new body merges four UN gender entities, three of which were housed or managed by my Department. While I feel sad at losing my colleagues in OSAGI, DAW and INSTRAW, I have no doubt that UN Women will be a strong and dynamic new entity, empowered to assist Member States in achieving the goals of gender equality and empowerment of women, including for older women. We look forward to working closely with UN Women.

Distinguished Delegates,

Persons with disabilities number 650 million worldwide. Four-fifths of this group live in developing countries, and mostly in rural areas.

Persons with disabilities are disproportionately poor, and more likely to be unemployed. They have less access to healthcare, education and employment.

A first step countries can take to rectify these injustices is to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is gratifying to note that in the last year, the number of signatures and ratifications of this legal instrument has doubled.

But we can do more. We should mainstream disability issues in our development priorities. I applaud the progress made in this area. Some countries have adopted disability-inclusive monitoring and evaluation of development polices. We hope this will continue, and that governments will work with all stakeholders to advance the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Throughout history, indigenous people have often been dispossessed of their lands and cultures. They have fought for centuries for their rights to preserve their languages, practices and rituals.

Yet, despite progress made, many indigenous people, who number approximately 370 million worldwide, continue to live in poverty and poor health. They are among the most disadvantaged people in the world.

We have a framework in place to help advance their status: the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I hope the Committee’s deliberations will generate continuing support among Member States for the full implementation of this Declaration.

Mr. Chairman,

The global financial and economic crisis has hit the world’s youth hard, as underscored by high youth unemployment and worsening working conditions. Compared to adults, youth are more than three times as likely to be unemployed. Young people make up 44 per cent of the world’s total unemployed, although they only represent 25 per cent of the total working-age population. Among youth in developing countries, underemployment and working poverty is widespread.

We have an opportunity to help improve the prospects for youth employment. Youth employment will feature prominently among the activities organized for the International Year of Youth. My department is spearheading the coordination of the International Year of Youth, with strong inter-agency collaboration and support. The active participation and support of Member States in the International Year will be crucial for the success of the Year.

Mr. Chairman,

Distinguished Delegates,

In order for meaningful and sustainable development to take place, people of all ages, abilities and ethnicities must be engaged in the development process. How can this be done in the current environment of so many crises? We must start by placing long-term objectives of social development as the highest priority in policy making. Let us, together with our partners in the UN system and civil society, make issues of equity, equality and social justice the centrepiece of economic, social and environmental policies.

I am confident that, under your leadership, the Committee will take bold and forward-looking steps to effectively address the socially debilitating effects of the global economic and financial crisis. We must act now to bridge the gap between commitment and action.

Thank you.