The World Programme of Action for Youth
to the Year 2000 and Beyond

Guiding the future of humanity:
Strengthening United Nations commitment to youth

The imagination, ideals and energies of young men and women are vital for the continuing development of the societies in which they live. This was recognized over thirty years ago by the Member States of the United Nations when they endorsed the Declaration on the Promotion among Youth of the Ideals of Peace, Mutual Respect and Understanding between Peoples in 1965.

Two decades later, the UN General Assembly called for the 1985 International Youth Year: Participation, Development, Peace, to emphasize the important role young people play in the world and, in particular, their potential contribution to development and the ideals of the United Nations Charter. That same year, the Assembly also endorsed the guidelines for further planning and suitable follow-up in the field of youth, which are significant for their focus on young people as a broad category comprising various subgroups, rather than a single demographic entity.

In 1995, on the tenth anniversary of International Youth Year, the United Nations strengthened its commitment to young people by directing the international community's response to the challenges to youth into the next millennium. It did this by adopting an international strategy -- the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond -- to address more effectively the problems of young people and to increase opportunities for their participation in society.

The Programme provides a policy framework and practical guidelines for national action and international support to improve the situation of youth. It contains proposals for action to the year 2000 and beyond to promote an improved well-being and livelihood among young people. The themes identified by the General Assembly for International Youth Year -- participation, development and peace -- represent the overall themes of the World Programme. The Programme also builds upon other recent international instruments, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development; the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights; the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; the Copenhagen Declaration and the Programme of Action of the 1995 World Summit for Social Development; and the Platform for Action adopted by the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women.

Meeting the challenge

The problems of young men and women, as well as their vision and aspirations, are an essential element of the challenges facing today's societies and future generations. In all parts of the world, young people, living in countries at different stages of development and in different socio-economic situations, aspire to live full lives in their societies. Certain elements would help in this process, such as ensuring education, access to employment opportunities, adequate food and nutrition, a physical and social environment that promotes good health and protection from disease, enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, participation in decision-making processes, and access to cultural, recreational and sports activities.

Since the International Youth Year, the world has experienced fundamental political, economic and socio-cultural changes. Young people represent agents, beneficiaries and victims of such changes which will inevitably affect us into the next century. The peoples of the United Nations, through their Governments, international organizations and voluntary associations, are working to ensure that development activities touch youth. But in many countries, the changing global situation has created conditions that have made this goal more difficult to achieve. Among them are: limited physical and financial resources for funding youth programmes and activities; inequities in social, economic and political conditions, including racism and xenophobia; gender discrimination; high levels of youth unemployment; armed conflict and confrontation; continuing deterioration of the global environment; increasing incidence of disease, hunger and malnutrition; changes in the role of the family; and inadequate opportunity for education and training.

The world's youth: An important population group

Today's global youth population, ranging in age from 15 to 24 years, is an estimated 1.03 billion, or 18 per cent of the people inhabiting the earth. The majority of these young men and women live in developing countries, and their numbers are expected to increase well into the twenty-first century. A special concern is that the economic difficulties experienced in many developing countries are often more serious for young people. Although young people in industrialized countries comprise a relatively smaller proportion of the total population, due to generally lower birth rates and higher levels of life expectancy, they are a social group that faces particular problems and uncertainties regarding the future, problems that have to do in part with limited opportunities for employment.

Youth are also affected by a growing incidence of substance abuse and juvenile delinquency. In addition, unprecedented numbers of young people in many developing countries are migrating from rural areas to urban centres.

The World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond identifies ten priority areas for action aimed at improving the situation and well-being of youth. These priority areas are highlighted below, along with some examples of the Programme's proposals for action.

Priority 1: Education
Priority 2: Employment
Priority 3: Hunger and poverty
Priority 4: Health
Priority 5: Environment
Priority 6: Drug abuse
Priority 7: Juvenile delinquency
Priority 8: Leisure time acetivities
Priority 9: Girls and young women
Priority 10: The full and effective
participation of youth in the life
of society and in decision-making

Priority 1: Education

In spite of progress towards universal basic education, the number of illiterate people will continue to grow and many developing countries are likely to fall short of universal primary education by the year 2000. There are three main concerns regarding current systems of education. The first is the inability of many parents in developing countries to send their children and young people to schools because of local social and economic conditions. Second, there is a paucity of educational opportunities for girls and young women, migrants and refugees, displaced persons, street children, indigenous youth minorities, young people in rural areas and young people with disabilities. The third concerns the quality of education, its relevance to employment and its usefulness in assisting young people in the transition to full adulthood, active citizenship and productive and gainful employment.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Give priority to improving the level of basic education, skill training and literacy among all youth, including young women and youth in distressed circumstances.

Establish or strengthen programmes to educate young people in the cultural heritage of their own and other societies and the world.

Encourage the design of educational programmes aimed at teaching peacemaking and conflict resolution in schools.

Enhance vocational and technical training relevant to current and prospective employment conditions.

Promote human rights education in schools and educational institutions.

Ensure the adequacy of facilities and programmes to train youth workers and youth leaders.

Priority 2: Employment

Unemployment and underemployment among youth is a problem everywhere, and is part of the larger struggle to create employment opportunities for all citizens. The difficulty of finding suitable employment is compounded by a host of other problems confronting young people, including illiteracy and insufficient training, and is worsened by periods of world economic slow-down and overall changing trends. Unemployment creates a wide range of social ills, and young people are particularly susceptible to its damaging effects: the lack of skills, low self-esteem, marginalization, impoverishment and the wasting of an enormous human resource.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Provide opportunities for self-employment, such as the creation of grant schemes to provide seed money to encourage and support enterprise and employment programmes for young people.

Establish programmes to promote youth employment among young women, young people with disabilities, youth returning from military service, young migrants, refugee and displaced youth, street children and indigenous youth.

Establish voluntary programmes for youth, for example youth camps, community service projects, environmental protection and inter-generational cooperation programmes.

Create employment opportunities for young people in fields that are rapidly evolving as a result of technical innovation.

Priority 3: Hunger and poverty

Over one billion people in the world today live in unacceptable conditions of poverty. Poverty is inseparably linked to lack of access to or control over resources, including land, skills, knowledge, capital and social connections. Without these resources, people have limited access to institutions, markets, employment and public services. Young people are particularly vulnerable to this situation. Hunger and malnutrition remain among the most serious and intractable threats to humanity, often preventing youth and children from taking part in society.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Enhance educational and cultural services and other incentives in rural areas to make them more attractive to young people, and initiate experimental farming programmes directed towards young people.

Provide land grants to youth and youth organizations, supported by financial and technical assistance and training.

Develop training programmes for youth which improve methods of agricultural production and marketing, with special attention to young women and youth in distressed circumstances.

Priority 4: Health

Health problems of young people include the lack of safe and sanitary living environments, malnutrition, the risk of infectious, parasitic and water-borne diseases, the growing consumption of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, unwarranted risk-taking and destructive activity. In many countries, there is a lack of information and services available to adolescents to help them understand their sexuality.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Develop or update country action plans or programmes to ensure universal, non-discriminatory access to basic health services, including sanitation and clean drinking water, to protect health, and to promote nutrition education and preventive health programmes.

Include programmes focusing on primary health knowledge and practices in the curricula of educational institutions at the primary and secondary levels.

Develop accessible, available and affordable primary health care services for youth, including sexual and reproductive health care, as well as education programmes, including those related to sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Promote healthier lifestyles in cooperation with youth organizations, inform young people about the adverse effects of drug and alcohol abuse and tobacco addiction, and investigate the possibility of adopting policies to discourage drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse.

Take steps to protect children, adolescents and youth from neglect, abandonment and all types of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Priority 5: Environment

The deterioration of the natural environment is one of the principal concerns of young people worldwide as it has direct implications for their well-being now and in the future. While every segment of society is responsible for maintaining the environmental integrity of the community, youth have a special interest in a healthy environment because they will be the ones to inherit it. The involvement of youth in environment and development decision-making is critical to the implementation of policies of sustainable development.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Integrate environmental education into school curricula, and offer training programmes to teachers on the environmental aspects of their subject-matter to enable them to educate youth concerning environmentally friendly habits.

Intensify production of information materials illustrating the global dimension, its origins and the interrelated effects of environmental degradation, and encourage widespread dissemination of information on environmental issues to continue to raise awareness among youth.

Initiate programmes to promote participation by youth in tree planting, forestry, combating desert creep, waste reduction, recycling and other sound environmental practices.

Enhance the role of the media as a tool for widespread dissemination of environmental issues to youth, and establish procedures for consultation and participation of youth in decision-making processes on the environment.

Help spread the use of environmentally sound technologies in developing countries and in countries in transition, and train youth in making use of such technologies in protecting and conserving the environment.

Priority 6: Drug abuse

With the worldwide increase in drug abuse and addiction among young people, the vulnerability of youth to this problem has become a major concern. The consequences of widespread drug abuse and trafficking, particularly for young men and women, are all too apparent. Intravenous substance abuse raises the risk of communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Violence, especially street violence, often results from drug abuse and illicit trafficking. The vulnerability of young people also raises a particular problem with regard to the use and misuse of psychotropic and prescription drugs, and self-medication with tranquilizers, sleeping pills and stimulants.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Promote drug abuse prevention, for example through education programmes for children and youth about the dangers of drug abuse, or by increasing opportunities for gainful employment and activities which provide recreation and opportunities to develop a variety of skills.

Develop training courses and disseminate information material for young medical and paramedical students on the proper handling of drugs and the early identification and diagnosis of substance abuse.

Encourage research on the medical treatment and the rehabilitation of young drug abusers and include students in the relevant faculties of such research.

Prevent exposure to drug abuse and dependence among young people suspected or convicted of criminal offences, for example by considering alternatives to incarceration of youthful offenders.

Priority 7: Juvenile delinquency

Juvenile crime and delinquency are serious problems all over the world. There is evidence, however, of an apparent worldwide increase in juvenile criminality in situations of economic recession, especially in marginal sectors of urban centres. Destitution, poor living conditions, inadequate education, malnutrition, illiteracy, unemployment and lack of leisure-time activities are factors that marginalize young people, making them vulnerable to exploitation as well as to involvement in criminal and other deviant behaviour.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Provide rural areas with adequate socio-economic opportunities and services to discourage young people from migrating to urban areas.

Ensure that youth from poor urban settings have available educational, employment and lesiure programmes, particularly during long school holidays.

Initiate programmes aimed at promoting tolerance and better understanding among youth, with a view to eradicating contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, and fostering the development of social organizations, particularly through youth associations and community involvement.

Undertake information campaigns, educational and training programmes aimed at sensitizing youth to the personally and socially detrimental effects of violence in the family, community and society, and teaching them how to communicate without violence.

Make rehabilitation programmes and services available to young people who have a criminal history.

Priority 8: Leisure-time activities

The importance of leisure-time activities in the psychological, cognitive and physical development of young people is recognized in all societies. Such activities include games, sports, cultural events, entertainment and community service. Appropriate leisure programmes for youth are elements of any efforts aimed at fighting social ills, such as drug abuse and juvenile delinquency.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Establish public libraries, cultural centres and other facilities in rural and urban areas and provide opportunities for young people to be active in drama, fine arts, music and other forms of cultural expression.

Encourage the participation of young people in tourism, international cultural events, sports and other activities.

Provide educational institutions with resources to develop the infrastructure required for the establishment of leisure-time activities.

Priority 9: Girls and young women

One of the most important tasks of youth policy is to improve the situation of girls and young women. In many parts of the world, girls are often treated as inferior and are socialized to put themselves last, thus undermining their self-esteem. Discrimination and neglect in childhood can initiate a lifelong downward spiral of deprivation and exclusion from the social mainstream. Inadequate nutrition, anaemia and early pregnancies threaten the health and life of young girls and adolescents. Negative cultural attitudes and practices as well as gender-biased educational processes including curricula, educational materials, teachers' attitudes and classroom interaction, reinforce existing gender inequalities.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Develop educational materials and practices that are gender balanced and promote an educational setting that eliminates all barriers that impede the schooling of girls and young women.

Remove discriminatory laws and practices against girls and young women in food allocation and nutrition, and take measures to ensure their access to health services.

Enact and enforce national legislation protecting girls and young women from all forms of violence, including female infanticide and prenatal sex selection, genital mutilation, incest, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and child prostitution and pornography.

Promote equal access for young women to all employment opportunities and encourage their participation in traditionally male-dominated professions.

Priority 10: The full and effective participation of youth in the life of society and in decision-making

The capacity of each society to progress is based, among other elements, on its capacity to incorporate the contribution and responsibility of youth in the building and designing of its future. In addition to their intellectual contribution and ability to mobilize support, young people bring unique perspectives that need to be taken into account. Youth organizations can be important forums for helping young people to develop the skills necessary for effective youth participation in society.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Develop and strengthen opportunities for youth to learn their rights and responsibilities.

Promote the social, political, developmental and environmental participation of young people, and remove obstacles that affect their full contribution to society.

Encourage youth associations and their activities through financial, educational and technical support.

Foster national, regional and international cooperation and exchange between youth organizations.

Strengthen the involvement of young people in international forums, for example by considering the inclusion of youth representatives in their national delegations to the United Nations General Assembly.

Outreach and partnership to implement the World Programme of Action

National level: United Nations Member States have invited various actors to support national efforts to implement the World Programme of Action to the Year 2000 and Beyond. These include the international community and non-governmental organizations as well as the public and private sectors and, in particular, youth organizations.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Regional level: The activities of the United Nations regional commissions, in cooperation with concerned regional intergovernmental and non-governmental youth and youth-related organizations, are essential complements to national and global action. These can make particular contributions to the formulation, implementation, coordination and evaluation of action at the regional level, including periodic monitoring of regional youth programmes.

The World Programme:

International level: An essential role for international cooperation will be to promote conditions conducive to the implementation of the World Programme at all levels.

The World Programme proposes action to:

Voices of and for youth: An essential dialogue

A critical first step in the implementation of the World Programme of Action is the expansion and regularization of effective channels of communication between non-governmental youth organizations and the United Nations system. The Forum is a unique consultation of non-governmental youth organizations, youth-related agencies and organizations of the United Nations system, and of other intergovernmental organizations which represent regional conferences of governmental ministers responsible for youth affairs.

Among the Forum's aims are to:

The Forum's first session was held at Vienna in 1991, with the second session also at Vienna, in November 1996.

How to obtain further information on actions for youth by the United Nations system

The text of the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond is available in the six official languages of the United Nations: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. If you require additional substantive information, or wish to have materials on the United Nations youth programme, please contact:

Youth Unit
Division for Social Policy and Development
Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development
United Nations
Room DC2-1314
New York, NY 10017, USA
Tel: (212) 963-1380, Fax (212) 963-3062


Development and Human Rights Section
Department of Public Information
Room S-1040
United Nations
New York, NY 10017, USA
Tel: (212) 963-1742, Fax (212) 963-1186

Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information--DPI/1769/Rev.1--March 1997

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