Honourable Charperson, Distinguished Youth Ministers and other delegates from various
Countries, ladies and gentlemen,

At the outset,I deem it a privilege to be able to participate in this first ever World Conference ofMinisters Responsible for Yobth. I would like to congratualate both the United Nations as well as the Government of Portugal for taking this initiative. However, I consider this conference as part of a continuum of initiatives taken all over the world particularly since the International Youth Year 1985, to address the various concerns of youth. I was, infact, very eagerly looking forward to this Conference.

As you are aware, India is a vast country with a glorious cultural heritage and traditions. It is the largest democracy in the world which symbolises unity in diversity.

Youth in India covers the population between the age group of 15 to 35 years which constitutes about 330 milion comprising 34 % of the total population. It is expected that the youth population would grow up to about 347 million by 2000 A.D. This gives us an. idea of the vast human resource that the youth represent in our country.

The Youth in India have always been in the forefront. Be it our struggle for freedom or our quest for development, youth have played a vital role.Coinciding with the International Youth Year, a separate Department of Youth Affairs and Sports was set up in 1985 and effort began to formulate a National Youth Policy which was adopted in 1988 and various schemes were introduced to cater to the needs of youth. These schemes aimed not only on the personality and skill development of youth, but also endeavoured to involve them in community based nation building activities so that they could become catalysts of change and development.

In view of the changing socio economic scenario, it has now been decided to reformulate the National Youth Policy in order to make it more need based and in tune with current requirements. After widespread deliberations with all the stakeholders,a new National Youth Policy has been formulated and is under finalization. The underlying theme of the New Policy is Youth Empowerment.

The New National Youth Policy recognizes four thrust areas namely, Youth Empowerment, Gender Justice, a Multi Sectoral Approach and emphasis on Information and Research Networks. It has identified the key areas of youth concern like, education, training and employment, health, environment, recreation and sports, art and culture, civics and citizenship, science and technology so that attention could be focussed on these areas.The New Youth Policy also endeavours to attach priority to the needs of underprivefiged and marginalized youth.

A National Progrannne of Action for Youth is also being developed simultaneously for an effective implementation of the New National Youth Policy with an effective mechanism for its evaluation and monitoring at afl levels.

The key issues which concern youth are universal in nature. Education, Health, Employment, Drug abuse, Gender equity are some of these. We are all aware of these chaflenges and also the possibilities of making a difference if these issues could ;be tack4led successfuUy. Our experience shows that youth are very responsive to the national chaflenges,- what they need is proper guidance, training and opportunities to channelize their energies.

India is largely an agricutural country and so ., most of our young people live in villages. Hence needs of rural youth are particularly taken care of Rapid urbanization is leading to migration of youth to urban centres and the rural youth who migrate to cities in search of education and employment are sometimes unable to copq4xith the alien situation leading to psychological maladjustments and risky behaviour. Special efforts are made to help this group of young people. Similarly, speciAl programmes have been designed for youth with disabilities, other marginalized youth, including socially and economically backward sections.

Opportunities for Youth

Our thrust is on providing access for youth to education, employment, health and other services to afford them better living conditions. Efforts are being made to provide youth with ample opportunities to develop their skills, capabilities, personality and become good citizens of the country. Youth in India today, are much more sensitized than before and there is a growing demand for a recognition of their rights.

Student youth are encouraged to take up programmes on education, health, community services etc. on a voluntary basis through their participation in schemes like the National Service Scheme and the National Cadet Corps. Government of India also supports the programmes of Bharat Scouts and Guides. The student youth of these organizations participate in the nation building process taking up special programmes on literacy, BIV/AIIDS, drug abuse, environment enrichment etc. In addition to these schemes, we also have a number of student youth associations and youth wings of political parties, who also take part in nation building activities.

Like wise, the non student youth in the villages are mobilized through the network of Youth Clubs affiliated to the Nehru Yuva Kendras. It is estimated that about 8 million youth are participating in various activities through over I lakh 60 thousand youth clubs of the Nehru Yuva Kendras. In addition, India is fortunate to have a host of Non Governmental Organizations which support youth programmes.

Government of India have launched schemes to promote Adventure, National Integration, provideassistance for training of youth in skill development etc. Government of India also supports theYouth Hostel movement and there are 50 Youth Hostels already functional in the country motivating young people to travel to places of historical, cultural and educational interest.

To encourage training , research , guidance and documentation for youth work and youthprogrammes, a national level apex agency, Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Developmen thas been established to act as a tfdnktank for youth programmes, policies and implementation strategies.

Now it is proposed to introduce a new scheme, namely, National Reconstruction Corps which could provide opportunities to young. people to participate in the nation building endeavours; on a wholetime basis working in their own community settings.

Empowering Youth

As I have stated a little while ago, the major thrust of our new National Youth Policy is Youth Empowerment. This is being achieved through various initiatives taken by both the Goverm-nent and Non Governmental Organizations.

The reduction of the minimum voting age from 21 to 18 in the year 1989 and a legislative measure taken in 1992 providing for reservation of one third of the seats for women in the village administrative units called Panachayats have enabled young people and young women to influence the decision making process in the country. Youth participation in the decision making bodies has been considerably enhanced by these decisions.

It has been rightly recognized that access to education and training has to be augmented so that youth can develop their competencies. The National Policy of Education(NPE) 1986, has provided for designing both formal and non-formal education programmes involving youth. Our literacy rate has increased to 52.91 percent in 1991. Today, 94 percent of the rural habitations have school facHities. Gross enrolment ratio at the primary stage has also increased to 100 percent in most of the states. Now we have a goal of Education for All by 2000 A.D. To achieve, this goal, vigorous efforts are being made. The education system is periodically evaluated and curricula updated in accordance with the advancements in Science and Technology. Efforts are also made to make the education relevant to the market needs and economic demands without compromising on the ethical and moral values of education.

In the employment sector, the thrust is on providing opportunities for self employment, entrepreneurship development and skill training. Special employment schemes like, National Employment Assurance Scheme(EAS), Prime Minister's Rojgar Yojana, Jawhar Rojgar Yojana, etc., have been introduced wherein minimum employment and wage earning opportunities are provided for poor yquth in the rural areas.

The initiatives have been further strengthened with the promotion and development of Small Scale Industries. 16 million persons were employed in the small scale sector in 1996-97. An important scheme called, Training of Rural Youth for Self Employment(TRYSEM) is being

implemented. Young women are provided training in skills and encouraged to form thrift and micro credit groups.

To provide access to information on education, employment and other services, dissemination of information is accorded high priority. Employment guidance and counseling centres have been functioning in the country.

Human rights education and awareness on gender equity are being carried out through youth organizations. A National Commission for Women was set up by the Government of India and a National Human Rights Commission had also been set up to advise on the policies and programmes.

Young people are involved in health services. India has a well designed health prograrnmes. Young people are involved in creating awareness on health issues, more particularly on drug abuse, HlV/AI1DS etc. Primary Health Centres and Village Health Guides provide basic health care facilities to the youth. To prevent drug abuse by young people, Government of India has adopted the strategy of supply control and demand reduction of drugs through stringent enforcement of Anti Narcotic Laws, treatment and rehabilitation of addicts and involvement of community and youth in the process.

International cooperation

India has signed MOUs with many neighbouring and other countries for undertaking youth exchange programmes. Young people are encouraged to travel within the country as well as to other countries and share their experiences and culture. They are encouraged to understand each others culture and traditions and to develop friendship and peace.

Young scientists are encouraged to undertake research in Science and technology. The performance of some of our young scientists even in the developed nations is a testimony to this fact.

I am, indeed, hopeful that the deliberations of this conference will have far reaching effects on the future policies and programmes for the development of youth all over the world.

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