Background Release

5 August 1998


Focusing on Challenges and Opportunities Facing 1 Billion Young People,
Conference Expects to Adopt Declaration on Youth Policies and Programmes

The challenges and opportunities facing young people today and in the future will be the focus of deliberations when representatives of some

140 nations -- among them, more than 100 youth ministers -- gather in Lisbon from 8 to 12 August.

This high-level meeting, convened by the Government of Portugal in cooperation with the United Nations -- the first World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth -- is the culminating event of more than a decade-long process undertaken to turn the attention of national and global leaders to the matters of importance to young people. The international movement began during the 1985 International Youth Year with the General Assembly's adoption of a global agenda in support of national youth policies. Then in 1995, the General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and

Beyond, which clearly defines strategies and targets for youth-related actions.

The world's youth -- people between 15 and 24 years old -- make up nearly one fifth of the population. They are more than 1 billion people, most living

in developing nations, striving to be healthy, educated and active participants in their communities. Already, governments around the world have accepted responsibility for increasing the real opportunities available to young people in pursuit of such goals. Global leaders have also recognized the importance of removing the barriers that hinder the personal development and social participation of young people, including poverty, hunger, unemployment, armed conflict, juvenile violence, substance abuse and gender discrimination.

During the five-day Conference, which will be opened by President Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio of Portugal and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, participants will decide on further ways that governments and society can respond more effectively to the economic, social, educational, emotional, cultural and spiritual needs of young people.

Discussions during the session will revolve around three themes. Firstly, using national efforts already taken to fulfil the 1995 World Programme of Action as a benchmark, governments will consider which national policies are effective and should continue, and what additional national action is required. Secondly, progress since the 1985 International Youth Year will be appraised, as will the current relevance of the Year's major themes of participation, development and peace. Thirdly, representatives will discuss social development and work to determine actions related to "major priority issues": education; young people's health problems; employment, unemployment and underemployment; worldwide increase in drug abuse; and the increased risk of communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

The most visible goal for delegates to the World Conference is to finalize and then adopt, on the session's last day, a declaration by which their governments would commit to fortify national policies to benefit their youthful populations. States would agree to enhance youth participation in all spheres of society; ensure the right to development of all young people; strengthen the role of youth in peace-building, conflict prevention and conflict resolution; promote eduction, full employment and health; and address drug and substance abuse. While each government would agree, with the declaration's adoption, to move towards achieving international goals, national administrations would be urged to tailor their policies to the particular priorities, realities, limitations and cultural conditions in their countries. (For more information on the draft text, see pages 3 and 4 of this press release.)

The draft final declaration, which will be the starting point for deliberations in Lisbon, reflects agreement reached on most of the text during four informal sessions of the international consultations for the Conference. At the close of the fourth session, held in New York in mid-July, several small segments of the text remain under contention and a small number of amendments to the overall text remain pending. The Main Committee of the Conference will be tasked with incorporating relevant aspects of deliberations in Lisbon into the text and finalizing the proclamation to be adopted as the Lisbon declaration on youth policies and programmes.

During the plenary session, a general exchange of views on the implementation of the World Programme of Action will incorporate the three themes of the Conference. In addition to statements which will be made by government representatives, heads of United Nations agencies will have the opportunity to report on efforts and present views on youth matters, as will representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) aligned with young people. Three working groups, open to all participants, will be established to deliberate on matters related to Conference themes. The working groups will present their conclusions to the Conference's Main Committee, which will finalize its recommendations and present them to the Conference plenary for consideration and approval.

The Conference, in addition to being the first international meeting of ministers of youth, is the first conference to be held by a Member State in cooperation with the United Nations. Under this new cost-saving measure, all expenses are being borne entirely by the Government of Portugal.

The week prior to the Lisbon Conference, from 2 to 7 August, the United Nations is convening the Third World Youth Forum of the United Nations System, in Braga, Portugal. At this United Nations Forum, hosted in this case by Portugal, some 500 young people from 150 countries will join hundreds of representatives of youth organizations to consider youth policy, youth participation, and youth and human rights. The goals of the Forum are to develop long-term strategies to place the concerns of young men and women on the development agenda and to help youth organizations better participate in ongoing policy-making at the international level. A delegation from the World Youth Forum will ride the "Youth Train" from Braga to Lisbon and formally

present the "Braga Youth Action Plan" and other recommendations on implementing the World Programme of Action to the ministerial-level conference.

Draft Lisbon Declaration on Youth

According to the draft declaration to be finalized in Lisbon (document

WCMRY/1998/L.1), nations around the world would not only agree to foster efforts to reach the goals of the World Programme of Action; they would also pledge to

include young people in charting national youth policy. Throughout the draft

declaration, terms are outlined by which governments pledge themselves to empower young people and groups working on their behalf; to enhance cooperation on youth-related policy at all levels; to improve information gathering and analysis; to continue promoting equality between young women and young men; and to provide the means to ensure the effectiveness of their actions, including adequate financial resources.

In developing their national policies, governments would agree to introduce measurable time-bound goals and indicators to allow a common basis for evaluating the effectiveness of youth programmes. While committing themselves to greater

action in such areas as youth education, employment and health, governments would urge relevant United Nations bodies to provide greater support to national youth policies and programmes, in particular: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural

Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the World Bank.

Among aspects of the text remaining under contention is a clause in the draft declaration's preamble, by which governments would recognize the special difficulties of "young women and young men living under foreign occupation".

Also under debate is a passage in the declaration focusing on peace which would have governments commit to "promoting and protecting the rights of youth living under colonial or other forms of alien domination or foreign occupation, particularly their right to self-determination and national liberation". Within the same section, decision is pending on a replacement paragraph which would be drafted as follows: "Bearing in mind the important role of youth in promoting peace and non-violence, measures should be taken in accordance with the relevant provisions of international law, including international standards of human rights, aimed at preventing the participation and involvement of youth in all acts of violence -- particularly acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, as distinguished from the just struggle of peoples for their liberation -- xenophobia and racism, and trafficking in arms and drugs."

Attached to the draft declaration are amendments by Canada, Iran Iraq, Lebanon, United States, Holy See and UNICEF which were presented, but not discussed, during the last round of informal consultations in July. Those amendments will be taken up in Lisbon.

1985 World Youth Year and Its Implementation

As part of the International Youth Year, the General Assembly adopted the "Guidelines for Further Planning and Suitable Follow-up in the Field of Youth", which promote future actions at the national, regional and global levels. By adopting the Guidelines, the Assembly indicated that the themes of the International Youth Year -- participation, development and peace -- are fundamental, interrelated aspects of long-term strategies in support of youth.

The Assembly declared that participation meant the social recognition that each person has the potential of judging and deciding matters of concern to his or her life, and should have every opportunity for doing so. Participation required that each person be aware of this opportunity, has access to the means necessary for utilizing it, and feels satisfied that his or her contribution is effective and recognized as such.

Development, as it relates to youth, involved both personal development and the process of development in each society. While development is the enhancement of an individual's capability to improve society, it is also a process of social, economic and political change which enables each person to realize his or her potential.

The General Assembly identified peace as a prerequisite for life itself.

It indicated that the desire for peace was worldwide and that the responsibility for its attainment belonged to everyone. It encouraged young people to halt and reverse the arms race, in the nuclear field in particular, to build confidence

between States and to channel more resources towards peaceful economic, social

and cultural development than those being used for acquisition of weapons.

To assist Conference participants in appraising efforts taken to attain the objectives of the International Youth Year, the United Nations Secretariat has

prepared a document reviewing relevant activities at the national, international and regional levels (document WCMRY/1998/7).

In 1994, nearly a decade after the Youth Year, only 24 per cent of Member

States had programmes of action promoting youth participation in national development. Although that number nearly doubled by 1997 to 40 per cent, greater action was clearly needed.

The report assesses that very little attention had been given at the regional level to joint planning, implementation and evaluation of youth projects. In particular, only two of the five United Nations regional commissions -- Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) -- had undertaken concerted follow-up to the International Youth Year. Regarding progress at the international level, the report states that Member States, with the exception of Austria, Denmark, Netherlands and Norway, failed to promote the involvement of young people in international forums, such as the

General Assembly or international conferences dealing with youth-related issues.

The report states that the Lisbon Conference and the Braga Youth Forum provide two new platforms for global action in support of youth.

Among recommendations for future action, Member States are urged to strengthen or establish national youth consultative bodies to integrate actions of youth ministries with national programmes on education, employment, health, poverty, rural development and drug abuse. Also, government should strengthen youth service programmes to enhance participation in national development projects.

The United Nations regional commissions should convene biennial meetings of regional youth NGOs, regional offices of youth organizations and United Nations bodies to discuss issues, trends and additional regional action, the report states. The regional commissions should increase youth participation by coordinating regional youth meetings with those of regional meetings of ministers.

At the international level, the two new high-level policy management bodies of the United Nations Secretariat -- the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Development Group -- should link normative and operational follow-up to the Conference. Among other things, it is recommended that the United Nations Youth Information Network (UNYIN: Internet Project) should be expanded, within available resources, into the major United Nations global database on youth programmes and policy. The report highlights the fact that the Lisbon Conference and the World Youth Forum will provide a new international platform for youth participation in the decision-making processes of United Nations policy bodies, as well as in the operational activities of the United Nations system.

1995 World Programme of Action and Its Implementation

In honour of the tenth anniversary of the International Youth Year, the Assembly adopted in 1995 the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond. In addition to making general recommendations, the Assembly outlined specific proposals for action and unambiguously identified the 10 priority issues which should be included in national policies and programmes. They are education; employment; hunger and poverty; health; environment; drug abuse; juvenile delinquency; leisure time activities; girls and young women; and full and effective participation of youth in the life of society and in decision-making.

The Assembly urged governments to formulate and adopt national youth programmes of action in terms of specific, time-bound objectives and systematic evaluation of progress achieved and obstacles encountered. Further, the Assembly said that multilateral mechanisms for consultation, dissemination of information, coordination, monitoring and evaluation could reinforce youth-related concerns in development activities. The Assembly stated that activities should be cross-sectoral in nature; multidisciplinary in approach; and should include the participation of youth-related departments and ministries, non-governmental youth organizations and the private sector.

In charting future action, the Conference will review a report on implementation of the goals of the World Programme of Action (document WCMRY/1998/6). While reiterating that only 40 per cent of countries have implemented national youth action plans, the report states that 89 per cent of Member States have national youth coordination mechanisms in the form of ministries, departments, councils or committees. Seventy-eight per cent have formulated cross-sectoral national youth policies in support of the goals of the World Programme of Action.

However, a lack of political will to address the problems and the potential of youth on an inter-sectoral basis has obstructed effective governmental action at the national level. Low budgetary support for design and delivery of policies for youth and a lack of youth participation in the formations of such policies have also hindered progress.

To enhance youth policy, States are urged to formulate integrated national policy based on the needs and aspiration of youth as they themselves view them. Also, youth participation is needed throughout the process of formulating national policy from the bottom-up, not from the top-down. Youth- related bodies of the United Nations should increase support for holistic treatment of youth issues by governments, in cooperation with youth agencies. Interdepartmental cooperation is essential inside governments, and between United Nations agencies and non-governmental youth organizations. The report recommends establishment of United Nations youth theme groups within country programmes of the UNDP, to provide a coordination forum for the United Nations and other agencies involved.

Participants at the Lisbon Conference are urged to give serious attention to the 1995 Assembly recommendations on global mechanisms, including continuing the role for the United Nations Commission for Social Development in the area of policy coordination and monitoring; regular international meetings of ministers

responsible for youth; and annual meetings of all parts of the United Nations system and related intergovernmental bodies to discuss promotion of the World Programme of Action.

Issues for Action

To assist government representatives in their review of youth social development within the context of areas for priority action -- education, employment, health and drug abuse -- the United Nations agencies active in these areas have prepared reports with recommendations for priority action.

The UNESCO has prepared a report on youth, education and future actions (document WCMRY/1998/8). Education should no longer be the sole domain of formal education policy-makers and administrator, the report states. Rather, formal education structures must be linked with other areas promoting participation. A holistic approach should integrate the formal hierarchical education structure with informal education gained through daily experiences and from outside the established formal system.

The UNESCO urges ministers to promote public education to increase awareness and political recognition of the issues relevant to youth and the importance of their education opportunities. Ministers are urged to advocate raising the status of youth and education on the local, national, regional and international agendas. To that end, alliances should be encouraged between

regional ministers and those of countries facing similar problems. Governments should allocate resources equal to the value of youth education.

Youth should be involved in government planning, decision-making and implementation of education strategies, UNESCO states. Education for girls and young women should be promoted, as should human rights education and education towards a culture of peace. Not only should new information be made available to young people, but the impact of introducing such innovations should be researched.

The ILO has prepared a report on youth and employment (document WCMRY/1998/9) which notes rates of youth unemployment as twice as high as adults', with that gap even wider in developing countries. Rates are often higher for young women and can be astronomical for disabled young people, and those from ethnic minorities or those with little education. Youth unemployment contributes to economic exclusion, poverty and increases the probability of future joblessness. It obstructs the movement of young people from adolescence to adulthood, and it is a major cause of crime and drug abuse. High levels of youth unemployment can also lead to alienation from society and a distrust in the democratic political process.

General macroeconomic conditions greatly determined the level of youth unemployment, the ILO concludes. Youth employment policies must be designed with the constraints imposed by economic conditions in mind, and must be integrated with education policies. Programmes should be carefully targeted, particularly to those with lower levels of skills and education.

The solution for youth unemployment requires both national and international action, the ILO states. The ILO points to a multidisciplinary approach. A macroeconomic environment that allows for social development and economic growth; effective employment and labour market policies; sound skill training programmes; and effective unemployment services are necessary. Close alliances must be formed between governments and NGOs; between the public and private sectors; and employers' and workers' organizations.

The WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have together compiled a report on youth health and development

(document WCMRY/1998/10), to be presented in Lisbon. Those United Nations bodies urge governments, with the support of the international community, to make concerted efforts to plan, monitor and strengthen their activities for youth health. Alliances at the national and global level are vital, since no single institution can take the action needed for the health and development of young people.

The report identifies five, profoundly linked, interventions to promote youth health. Safe and supportive environments must be created, and relevant information must be made available on healthy lifestyle and the prevention of health problems. Young people must learn practical and marketable skills to allow them to apply relevant information. Counselling must be provided in moments of crisis or when young people are striving to make choices regarding their health and development. In addition, the health services provided must be appropriate and accessible to young people.

Ministers in Lisbon are urged to guarantee young persons the right to health, including especially vulnerable young people. They are asked to marshall the political will to place youth and youth health higher on national agendas, and to secure adequate human and financial resources to meet the health and development needs of young people.

The report of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme

(UNDCP) on the drug abuse situation among young people (document WCMRY/1998/11) states that very large numbers of young people are being exposed to a variety of drugs. Illicit drug consumption has increased throughout the world, with global consumption of cannabis estimated at 140 million people. Those using synthetic amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) drugs is set at 30 million people; cocaine

abusers at 13 million; and heroin users at 8 million. The high cannabis consumption by youth suggests its acceptance in certain areas. The growing consumption of methamphetamine, Ecstasy and other synthetic drugs associated with the dance scene or the "rave" is of particular concern.

While only a significant minority of young people experiment with illicit drugs in many countries, young people are often less able to evaluate the dangers of drug use, the report states. Global drug use by young people must be seen against the backdrop of an environment where young people must increasingly face rapid social and technological change. Also, popular youth culture and mass media messages are increasingly more tolerant towards illicit drugs and, thus, create the wrong impression that drugs are acceptable and even glamorous.

In reporting to the ministers, the UNDCP states that prevention programmes should be designed in consultation with young people to ensure cultural sensitivity towards the targeted groups. The experiences of those young people who abstain from drug use even in places where drugs are commonly used, such as "rave" or "techno" parties, should be used when designing prevention programmes. Prevention should focus on only one specific drug at a time. Multi-level programmes must target different settings and different groups.

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