Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the World Youth Congress 2008
Québec City, 12 August 2008

I am delighted to join you, in beautiful Québec City, for this 4th World Youth Congress. On behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the entire United Nations system, I congratulate the organizers for successfully bringing together so many distinguished young people, from so many countries around the world, to celebrate youth-led development.

Today is a day we devote to celebrating you – the youth - and your achievements. We applaud the efforts of all young people everywhere. Usually, older people like me want to give advice to the younger ones. But International Youth Day and this Congress remind us that we have a lot to learn from you – and that we need to work together if we want to address today’s most pressing challenges: making poverty history, combating climate change and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS. The world needs your drive, innovation and energy.

Many of you have truly initiated change in your communities. But let us remember that many young people do not have the opportunity or ability to contribute. Many lack adequate education, health, even water and food to enable them to live their lives fully. About 160 million young people are undernourished and more than 200 million are surviving on less than $1 per day. Almost 130 million youth around the world are illiterate; more than one third of the estimated 6,800 new HIV infections each day are among youth, and young people continue to be three times more likely than adults to be unemployed. So while we celebrate your achievements, let us also think about how to help youth to break out of the cycle of poverty that holds them down and prevents their full participation in society.

Member States of the United Nations recognized the special needs of young people and adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth in 1995 to guide their policies and actions to improve young people’s wellbeing. There has been progress in implementation, but many challenges remain. The United Nations is ready to work with you – young people – in the continued implementation of the Programme of Action. We will not succeed unless you familiarize yourself with the specific challenges that youth face in your communities. I urge you to work with your Governments, the private sector and civil society to make youth development a reality and not just rhetoric.

To my colleagues in the United Nations system, I am indeed proud to see the collaborative effort demonstrated in this Congress. The United Nations has participated in other youth meetings such as this, though often, each office in its individual capacity. The UN presence here at the 4th World Youth Congress demonstrates our common commitment and our range of approaches and specializations in the area of youth development. Young people confront an array of opportunities as well as challenges. We must apply our broad range of expertise in a coordinated manner to address them.

I am pleased to use this occasion of the World Youth Congress – and International Youth Day – to launch the brochure, “Growing Together: Youth and the Work of the United Nations”.

The brochure demonstrates how the work of the various parts of the United Nations system relating to youth is complementary and covers all 15 priority areas of the World Programme of Action. While the brochure may look like any other publication to you, it is truly a first. For the first time, the United Nations system has come together to take stock of our activities related to youth development. My thanks go to the family of UN system Agencies, Funds, Offices and Programmes which contributed to the brochure, and I encourage them to build on this spirit of cooperation to do even more to advance youth development.

We must truly work together to make strategic investments in youth. Investments which target young people today will not only improve the wellbeing of a large generation of young people, but will also serve long-term social and economic development. I urge you to consider a formalization of UN-system collaboration in the continued implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth.

Let me assure every young person here of the United Nations’ determination to collaborate with you to tackle the challenges you face and to build a foundation for a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable world.

Thank you.