‘This is Your United Nations,’ Secretary-General Tells Youth Representatives at Population Commission Opening, Calling Them ‘A Force for Progress’

23 April 2012
POP/1001

‘This is Your United Nations,’ Secretary-General Tells Youth Representatives at Population Commission Opening, Calling Them ‘A Force for Progress’

23 April 2012
Economic and Social Council
POP/1001
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on Population and Development

Forty-fifth Session

2nd & 3rd Meetings* (AM & PM)

‘This is Your United Nations,’ Secretary-General Tells Youth Representatives

 

at Population Commission Opening, Calling Them ‘A Force for Progress’

 

Young Delegates Say: ‘Recognize Us as Strategic

 Partners’, as ‘Everything Done Without Us is Done Against Us’

Acknowledging the unusually large attendance at the forty-fifth session of the Commission on Population and Development, which opened today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the turnout told only part of the story; the real message was the energy of the session and the presence of so many young people.

“Welcome,” he said to the youth delegations.  “This is your United Nations”.

Recalling the events in Tunisia last year, he said “youth are more than a demographic force; they are a force for progress.”  With “eyes wide open”, today’s young people were connected and engaged in the events around them, he said.

However, no matter where he travelled in the world, he said, young people always asked him the same two questions:  “Why isn’t the UN doing more to help the suffering?” and “What can I do to help the world?”

Youth today need more than just hopes; they needed food, jobs and health care, and especially access to reproductive health services, with 6 million adolescent girls becoming mothers every year, and more than 2,000 young people contracting HIV daily.  More than 100 million adolescents were not in school, and more than 75 million young people were unemployed.  He asked the attendees to put the face of someone they loved on those statistics, and he stressed the need to ensure that young people “have their place in the international agenda”.

On behalf of General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Acting President of the General Assembly, Marjon Kamara, said it was encouraging to see young people in the room today who were interested and active participants in effecting change.  At the same time, the international community must not forget the hundreds of millions of youths who could not be seen, but who were also engaged in tackling even greater and all-encompassing challenges.

Reaching across the “digital divide” was crucial to young people’s health as “awareness can spell the difference between life and death,” said Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Babatunde Osotimehin, as he described how the Fund was utilizing contemporary technology though mobile phones, Skype, Facebook and Twitter activities to disseminate information and raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health.

It was, however, two youth representatives who offered a glimpse inside the very population the Commission was discussing.  Angga Dwi Martha, a 21-year-old from Indonesia described taking turns with his classmates reading the one book in his village’s “very limited” school library for information on puberty and sexuality while “hiding in shame” in the corner of that library.

Now, actively involved with several youth-led organizations in Indonesia, information and knowledge was exchanged through social media “by young people and for young people”.  The potential contributions of the youth to the larger society were huge, he told the Commission.  But, such contributions were not so simple if the world did not “recognize us as strategic partners,” he said.

“Everything done without us is done against us,” said a 22-year-old youth representative from Senegal, Souadou Ndoye, who called for the inclusion of young people in the international agenda.  Half the population of her country was under the age of 20 and was impacted by the profound challenges of HIV, unsafe abortion, drug use and unwanted pregnancy.  Yet, despite that, there was a lack of appropriate education, impacted by cultural taboos against discussing sexuality and reproductive rights.  Even in the face of such challenges, however, she and her peers were optimistic that change could happen.

As the Commission’s session got under way, its Chair, Hasan Kleib, said the General Assembly’s decision to extend the 1994 Cairo Action Plan beyond 2014, because many Governments were struggling to achieve its goals and objectives, was “a wake-up call”.  The Commission would review the progress made towards all young people entering adulthood “educated and healthy, with opportunities for decent work and freedom to make choices about their lives”.

In other business today, the Commission elected William Awinador-Kanyirige (Ghana), as Vice-Chair, and Martina Tezak Budisic (Croatia) to serve as Rapporteur.  It also adopted its agenda and organization of work.

Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, delivered opening remarks on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang.  Presenting reports of the Secretary-General were Bela Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Werner Haug, Director of UNFPA’s Technical Support Division; and Jose Miguel Guzman, Chief of that Division’s Population and Development Branch.

Participating in the general discussion on follow-up to the Cairo Conference were the representatives Indonesia, Norway, Finland, China, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Russian Federation, Cuba and Bangladesh (on behalf of South-South initiative Partners in Population and Development).  A representative for the European Union delegation and a representative of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) also participated in that exchange.

Joining in a discussion with the youth representatives were the delegates of the United States, Indonesia, Uganda, Netherlands, Philippines, Norway and South Africa.

Professor of Economics at the University of Hawaii, Andrew Mason, gave a keynote speech, following which, the representatives from Norway, Cuba, Botswana, Uganda and Senegal, as well as a representative of UNFPA took part in a discussion.

Delivering statements on national experience was the Prince and Minister of Economic Planning and Development, as well as the representatives of Algeria, Angola (on behalf of Southern African Development Community (SADC)), United Arab Emirates (on behalf of the African Group), Indonesia, Uruguay and Gabon.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m., on Tuesday, 24 April, to continue its general debate.

Background

The Commission on Population and Development began its forty-fifth session today under the special theme “Adolescents and youth:  Their numbers and economic roles”.

Before it was the report on the meetings of the Bureau of the Commission on Population and Development (document E/CN.9/2012/4), which summarizes its deliberations ahead of the session and offers an overview of the demography of adolescents and youth, describing current and expected trends for that population; their experience in regard to marriage; childbearing and the use of contraception; challenges to their health and survival; and their participation in international migration.  The report also presents recommendations for actions that would ensure young people access to the services and guidance needed in making crucial life transitions and in participating more fully in society.

[For additional background information and official documents for the session, please see the website at:  http://www.un.org/esa/population/cpd/cpd2012/cpd45.htm.

Opening Remarks

HASAN KLEIB (Indonesia), opening the session, noted that the task would be focused on reviewing the progress made in fulfilling the goals and objectives of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.  The Commission would review the progress made towards ensuring that adolescents and youth enter adulthood “educated and healthy, with opportunities for decent work and freedom to make choices about their lives”.

He recalled the General Assembly’s decision to extend the action plan beyond 2014 because many Governments were struggling to achieve its goals and objectives.  “This is a wake-up call,” he stated, welcoming the many distinguished guests and the large number of participants gathered for the Commission, especially the large number of young people.

Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON noted that there was “something different” about this year’s Commission.  Although he was the first Secretary-General in recent years to speak address it, what was truly different was the presence of young people in attendance.  “Welcome,” he said.  “This is your United Nations.”

He also noted the attendance of more than 500 representatives of non-governmental organizations.  “I am delighted to see this room packed with such dedicated people,” he stated.  He also welcomed the many participants in an adjacent conference room participating through televised video.  Although the large number of participants was impressive, that told only part of the story.  The real message was the energy of the session, he said, noting that “what is true for the Commission is true for the world”.

Further, he said, this generation of youths was the largest in history and was actively shaping history, as illustrated in Tunisia last year.  They were also impacting change globally in their homes, communities, clinics, Governments, and intergovernmental organizations.  “Youth are more than a demographic force; they are a force for progress,” and thus, their empowerment was a major component in his work.  It was with that in mind that he pledged to appoint a Special Advisor for Youth.

He said that wherever he went in the world, in every language and every country he visited, regardless of whether it was “in rich capitals or in poor villages”, he was consistently asked by young people the same two questions:  “Why isn’t the UN doing more to help the suffering?” and “What can I do to help the world?”  He said that the youth of today had “their eyes wide open”, were informed and connected to one another, and cared for the future of their communities.  Young people wanted to protect their environment to ensure a home for their children, and they understood the waste of spending money on weapons rather than on food.  They also believed in the United Nations.

The 1994 Cairo Programme of Action had put people at the centre of population and development, he recalled.  At that meeting, the world took a unified stance that when individuals were empowered, especially women, whole societies benefited.  He urged that the youth of today be viewed through that “same lens of empowerment”.

However, youth today need more than just hopes; they needed food, jobs and health care, he said.  More so, they especially needed help in the area of reproductive health care.  The reality was that many were sexually active and they needed information and the means to protect themselves.  This year, he had joined Bishop Desmond Tutu to urge support for “Every Woman, Every Child”.  Bishop Tutu had pointed out that more than 10 million girls became brides before they were 18 years of age.  He had urged people to imagine “the face of someone you love to make those numbers come alive”.

The Secretary-General then asked the attendees to put the face of someone they loved on the following statistics.  More than 75 million young people were unemployed and 900 million people survived on less than $2 a day.  More than 100 million adolescents were not in school.  Further, 6 million adolescent girls became mothers every year, and every day, more than 2,000 young people contracted HIV.  “We have a collective responsibility to drive these numbers down,” he stated.

The Cairo Programme of Action was one of the most important internationally-agreed paths for a better future for the world’s youth, he said in conclusion.  Young people had potential power, but they also had different needs, noting that the challenges a male college graduate faced were much different than those of a girl living in poverty.  The goal of the Commission, the Organization and the world community was to provide a safe, secure environment for the world’s youth, regardless of their unique circumstances.  In two months, the world would be meeting in Rio for the Conference on Sustainable Development.  “This is our chance to advance the Millennium Development Goals for the planet,” he said.  “Let us make sure that young people have their place in the international agenda.”  In working for and with young people, a new future would be created.

MARJON KAMARA, Acting President of the General Assembly, delivered a statement on behalf of General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.  She said that back in the International Year of Youth:  Dialogue for Mutual Understanding in 1985, young people worldwide between the ages of 15 and 24 numbered just below 933 million.  Today, that number was over 1.2 billion, with five out of six people living in the developing world.  That proportion was expected to increase over the coming decades.  The new generation of young people were active participants in society and making significant contributions to development.  Today, young people were better educated and faced lower risks of early death than they did three decades ago.

However, she said that too many young people in the developing world still did not have adequate access to quality education, decent work opportunities or participation at decision-making levels.  Many of them also lacked information and access to family planning and reproductive health services, all of which compromised their ability to realize their full potential.

The Cairo Programme of Action underscored the importance of promoting the well-being and opportunities of young people, including through their access to reproductive health education, information and care, she noted.  By extending the Programme along with key Actions for its further implementation beyond 2014, the General Assembly had also decided to convene a special session during its sixty-ninth session to assess the Programme’s status 20 years on.

She said that the focus of the Commission’s session on adolescents and youth reinforced the call to action from the high-level meeting on youth held last year.  Governments and the international community must address the challenges that limited the ability and opportunity of today’s young in a pragmatic, effective and forward-looking way.  Given the reality of a globalized world, today’s young people needed the international community’s support to develop their capacity as true world citizens to face the challenges of an interdependent planet.  It was encouraging to see young people in the room today who were interested and active participants in effecting change.  At the same time, the international community must not forget the hundreds of millions of youths who could not be seen, but who were also engaged in tackling even greater and all encompassing challenges.

JOMO KWAME SUNDARAM, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, speaking on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, said that this year’s focus on adolescents and youth was particularly timely in light of the rapid population increases, combined with the largest number of young people the world had ever known, challenging countries’ ability to end poverty and hunger, achieve universal education, and improve maternal and child health.  The Cairo Action Programme, therefore, was just as valid today as it was 18 years ago.

The Rio+20 Conference, called “one of the most important conferences in United Nations history” by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, should not miss the chance to fully integrate population challenges into the outcome document.

He said that while the number of adolescents and youth was larger than ever, it would nevertheless remain stable for the foreseeable future.  That meant that a larger share of young people would be able to access schooling and health care than in the past.  The number of young people aged 12 to 24 was projected to fall by some 10 per cent in Asia and the Pacific, and in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2040.  There would also be slight drop of that population in developed countries.  In Africa, however, the number of adolescents and youth was expected to increase by 60 per cent over the next 30 years.

That rapid growth would impact opportunities and could exacerbate unemployment, poverty, and access to health care for young people.  However, that population of young people — with their energy, zest and talent — was a tremendous resource that could transform the globe.  The Commission’s evidence suggested a number of ways forward, including supporting adolescent girls, sex education and HIV prevention programmes, and providing family planning services, and fostering decent work opportunities.

BABATUNDE OSOTIMEHIN, Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that during his travels with the Secretary-General through Africa and Asia, people were “so happy” to meet the Secretary-General at their health clinics, and he was sure that one or two babies had been named Ban Ki-moon.  He also praised the Arab youth for their stance and efforts to establish democracy, human rights and social justice.  UNFPA continued to work, as it had for years, with young people across the Arab region and around the world, specifically with the Y-Peer networks in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and 50 other countries across five continents.

He noted UNFPA’s collaboration with sister agencies, including United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), as well as civil society organizations.  Further, UNFPA was “harnessing the power of technology”, utilizing mobile phones to help midwives and bringing participants together over Skype.  With Facebook and Twitter activities, youths were being mobilized and communities on the other side of the “digital divide” were being reached.  Those efforts were essential to young people’s sexual and reproductive health, as “awareness can spell the difference between life and death.”

Of the 1.2 billion people worldwide under the age of 20, 300 million lived in “grinding poverty”, he said, expressing particular concern with the well-being of adolescent girls.  The leading case of death was complications from pregnancy and childbirth, and survival from those complications often caused disabilities, leaving those young women vulnerable to sexual coercion and abuse.  “They need our protection and our help,” he stated.

However, he said, those women were not just victims, but participants in change.  A Youth Advisor, Kakenya Ntaiya, from a Masai village in Kenya, despite that at age five, she had been engaged to be married, had managed to get an education and earn a doctoral degree.  She then returned to her village with the goal to educate every girl there.  “If we give young women a chance, chances are they will use it to help others,” he said.  That was why, in assuming the position as the Fund’s Executive Director more than a year ago, he worked to strengthen its work on youth.  Those efforts included supporting comprehensive sexuality education, gender equality, human rights and conflict resolution, and increasing sexual and reproductive health services and information through youth networks.

Action

The Commission then took up organizational and procedural matters, electing William Awinador-Kanyirige (Ghana), as Vice-Chairs for the forty-fifth session, and Martina Tezak Budisic (Croatia) to serve as Rapporteur.

Next, the Commission adopted its agenda for the session (document E/CN.9/2012/2), as orally amended, noting that the provisional agenda was approved by the Commission at its forty-fourth session last year.  The Commission further approved the organization of work for the session (document E/CN.9/2012./CRP.1).

Introduction of Reports

BELA HOVY Chief of the Migration Section of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs introduced the Secretary-Generals report, entitled Adolescents and youth (document E/CN.9/2012/4).  He said that the report described levels and trends in the size of the adolescent and youth population, their marriage patterns, their experience in regard to childbearing, the use of contraception, and their health status.

He said that the periods of adolescence and youth were not clearly defined, but were delineated in various ways.  Adolescence was usually considered to begin with puberty and tended to last two to four years, with reproductive maturation being one of the key markers of that transition.  Taking into account that the age of maturation in many countries was 18 years, the adolescent population was sometimes referred to as those aged 12 to 17.  Similarly, the period of youth was defined by the United Nations for statistical purposes as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 — with the lower end set at 15 for practical rather than substantive considerations.  Thus, to capture both groups, the Secretary-General generally targeted the 12- to 24-year olds, although slightly different age groups had been included when dictated by data limitations.

Stabilization of the population of young people was by no means certain, he said.  In particular, small changes in fertility could lead to very different outcomes, with a gap between the high and low scenarios involving some 800 million young people by 2040.  Early marriage rates were steadily decreasing, although striking differences across regions remained:  in Africa, 24 per cent of all females aged 15 to 19 had been married, compared to just 4 per cent in developed countries.

He said the adolescent birth rate had also dropped from 71 per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 in 1990 to 56 in 2008 — although African females of that group had a birth rate almost twice the global average.  A crucial way to reduce adolescent pregnancies was by protecting and promoting the rights of adolescents to reproductive health education, and information and care, including family planning.  While adolescence was generally the healthiest period of life, a variety of risks persisted, including unhealthy behaviours, road traffic injuries, homicides and suicides.  The report touched on that issue, as well as those concerning young international migrants.

WERNER HAUG, Director, Technical Division, UNFPA, introducing the report of the Secretary-General on the Monitoring of Population Programmes, Focussing on Adolescents and Youth (document E/CN.9/2012/5), highlighted the report’s recognition that addressing the development priorities of adolescents and youth was central to the implementation of the Cairo Programme of Action and to the notion that creating opportunities for today’s largest generation of young people in history, including promoting their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, was not only a human rights imperative, but also a smart human and economic development strategy.  From a life-cycle approach, adolescence was a pivotal stage that required special and dedicated investment as its many important transitions set the stage for a healthy and productive adulthood.

The report, he said, reviews actions by Governments, non-governmental organizations, and UNFPA and its partners, which created a supportive environment for young people as they made the transition to adulthood; invested in young people; promoted their rights and gender equality; and provided sexual and reproductive health information and services, among other actions.  The report provides a broad range of examples of policies and programmes at country, regional and global levels that had contributed to advancing the Cairo commitments as they related to young people.  The lessons learned should lead the way to scaling up efforts and addressing remaining challenges.

According to the report, close to 90 per cent of the world’s 1.8 billion young people between ages 10 and 24 lived in developing countries, constituted a large proportion of the population, he noted.  However, the report states that, despite the compelling evidence of the importance of young people to their country’s prospects for development, investments in adolescents and youth were lagging behind.  Young people faced disproportionately high levels of poverty with many experiencing limited access to quality education, health services, decent work and opportunities to participate in society.  Despite some important advances, progress had been slow and uneven, requiring urgent efforts to protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of young people, especially the right to sexual and reproductive health.

Yet, said Mr. Haug, the report finds that there are still many barriers that hindered access of adolescents and youth to health services, including sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention.  Laws and policies often restricted such access, particularly for unmarried adolescents.  Many health providers remained judgemental and lacked the skills to work with adolescents with sensitivity and confidentiality.  Further, adolescent girls still faced multiple discriminations due to their gender and age, putting them at risk.  The report calls for special efforts to enable girls to stay in school, delay family formation, prevent child marriage, keep girls free from violence, including sexual violence, and develop life skills.  It recommended that programmes that promoted comprehensive sex education for adolescents and youth, both in and out of school, be based on the international standards that were developed and adopted by several United Nations agencies and their partners.

Furthermore, the report calls for the full participation of young people in programmes and policy dialogue, and the formulation of national development plans and poverty reduction strategies to ensure that their priorities and needs were incorporated.  Investments in adolescents and youth empowered them to navigate their life transitions safely and develop their human capital to its fullest potential in efforts to achieve development in their countries.  “We must recognize the enormous potential of the largest generation of young people in history, and their contributions as active citizens towards peace and security, poverty reduction, economic development and social justice,” he said.

JOSE MIGUEL GUZMAN, Chief, Population and Development Branch, Technical Division, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the The Flow of Financial Resources for Assisting in the Implementation of the Programme of Action in the International Conference on Population and Development (document E/CN.9/2012/6).  The Fund, which had been given the lead role in monitoring resource flows for assisting in the implementation of the Cairo Conference, collected information each year on levels of international population assistance and domestic financial resource flows for population activities, by working in close collaboration with the Netherlands International Demographic Institute.  To strengthen local capacity to track domestic resource flows, UNFPA and the Netherlands International Demographic Institute in turn worked with two regional institutions — the Indian Institute of Health Research Management and the African Population and Health Research Centre — and looked forward to working with institutions from other regions in the near future.  Additionally, a number of countries had identified Government ministries or offices for data collection on expenditures or population activities.

He encouraged all countries to work with the Fund in monitoring resource flows, stressing that reliable and timely data were essential to inform policy.  Such data was also vital for planning and budgeting purposes, and to improve aid effectiveness and donor harmonization.

The present report, he said, analysed international and domestic financial resource flows that were part of the “costed population package” and included funding in the following four categories:  family planning services; basic reproductive health services; activities related to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS; and basic research, data and population and development policy analysis.  An analysis on the latest figures indicated that the financial and economic crisis had been affecting the amount of resources developed to implementation of the Cairo Plan.  After surpassing $10 billion in 2008, there had been only a modest increase in funding levels — $10.6 billion in 2009 and a provisional figure of $10.7 billion in 2010, and he feared the future might not bring the anticipated increases as most donor countries struggled with their economies.  Increasingly, non-traditional donor countries also provided assistance, including aid donated after a crisis or in-kind contributions in the form of medical equipment, personnel, or provision of training.  Some of those countries were recipients of official development assistance (ODA), themselves.

Non-traditional donors, he said, included countries with new aid programmes, providers of South-South cooperation, and donors from oil-exporting countries in the Middle East.  In fact, the levels of ODA spending by some of those non-traditional donors were becoming more relevant.  At present, however, it was difficult to find out how much of that aid was going to population activities, and he hoped that reporting systems would allow for such disaggregation in the future.  The lack of adequate funding remained the chief constraint to full implementation of the Cairo Plan for many developing countries that could not mobilize sufficient resources to fund their much-needed population and HIV/AIDS programmes.  He hailed those Governments that made every effort to mobilize resources despite funding constraints.  He called on all countries, including the emerging markets and non-traditional donors, to make every effort to mobilize the required resources to meet the growing needs in developing countries.

He welcomed recent initiatives to advance the Cairo agenda and to help mobilize the resources needed for its full implementation.  Among those was a family planning summit scheduled to be held in London in July to generate political commitment and substantial resources to meet the family planning needs of women in the world’s neediest countries by 2020.  He especially welcomed the unprecedented global movement “Every Woman, Every Child”, spearheaded by the Secretary-General to mobilize and intensify global action to save the lives and improve the health of millions of women and children around the world.  Those initiatives demonstrated a real commitment to Cairo’s main goals, and he was hopeful that they reinvigorated the momentum as the international community moved towards 2015 and beyond.  He also hoped that additional resources from donors, emerging economies and developing countries would reverse the stagnating levels of funding to help make those goals a reality.

General Discussion on Follow-up to the Cairo Conference

SUGIRI SYARIEF ( Indonesia), Chairperson of the National Population and Family Planning Board, stated that this session of the Commission would help determine “the nature and quality of life for all in this century”.  In this regard, the reports before the Commission provided comprehensive demographic pictures of the challenges facing adolescents and youth.  He also noted that successful family planning in recent decades had resulted in an increasing population of elderly people throughout the world.  At the same time, the population of adolescents and youth was also peaking, with his country among those experiencing that age structure.  He also noted that trend was projected to remain stable in the next few years, but would then decline in some countries.

However, he continued, the investment in the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and youth should not be controlled exclusively by demographic factors.  Rather, that investment should be influenced by the rights and expected roles in the society of the young people themselves.  By investing in their well-being, society would be given a solid development foundation.  That would enable young people to be productive participants as workers, heads of households, civic-minded citizens and competent community leaders.  The consequences of not investing in that foundation would result in high dropout rates from school, unskilled labour at risk of unemployment, and dangerous health behaviours, all which would permanently impact current society.

In order to successfully implement programmes for adolescents and youth, several factors should be in place, including ensuring that the different policies being adopted were sensitive to their specific social and economic contexts; that the objectives developed by key ministries and stakeholders received meaningful input from young people themselves, especially woman and girls, and that they were incorporated on a national level; and that capacity-building was promoted, making it possible to undertake analysis, policy development, implementation, coordination, monitoring and evolution of the programmes.  Although many countries had conceptualized programmes for adolescent and youth, implementation was still a formidable challenge, and that issue required serious consideration.

MORTEN WETLAND ( Norway) said that to be young could and should be beautiful, but it was also very complicated.  The young faced fundamental questions relating to their personal identity, purpose and options in life.  They also confronted the question of who had the power to make life decisions for them, such as when and whether to have children, the spacing of those children, and other choices pertaining to their good health and well-being.

He said that 18 years after the adoption of the Cairo Programme, the world was witnessing the largest generation ever entering sexual and reproductive life.  They aspired for work opportunities, education, and the possibility to influence society.  Since Cairo, the international community had gained impressive new knowledge about what needed to be done to enable the young to take charge of their own destiny.  That included dealing with existential questions, which, in his delegation’s view, included their sexual and reproductive rights.

Comprehensive sex education was known to postpone sexual debut and protect against abuse, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, he said.  Further, a particular focus on girls was required due to their specific vulnerabilities and needs.  In countries where abortion was illegal, both the number of abortions and the number of women dying from abortions increased.  It was, thus, a false claim that those protecting and promoting the human rights of women to choose abortion also promoted abortion.  No country “favoured” abortion, and the issue was rather who should make that decision.  He stressed that the promotion and protection of human rights was not a producer of, but rather a significant contributor to, development.

JARMO VIINANEN (Finland) commended the progress made in the 18 years since 179 Governments had supported the Cairo outcome.  However, its core goals had yet to be fulfilled.  Improving access to family planning, maternal health services and comprehensive sexuality education was crucial to the well-being of the world’s citizens, in particular, young people.  With the 2014 review of the implementation of the Cairo Plan and the 2015 assessment on the progress of the Millennium Development Goals, political will would be necessary to generate “faster progress”.  Towards that end, a high-level task force for implementing the Cairo Plan was being established and would commence work later this year, co-chaired by his country’s former president, Tarja Halonen, and former President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano.

He said the task force would focus on advancing past commitments and work to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights were central elements in the development agenda post-2014 and 2015.  In that rights-based approach, every person was important, and adolescents and youth should included and granted the right to decide freely and responsibly on matters of their sexuality and reproduction, “free of any type of coercion, discrimination or violence”.  Sexual and reproductive health and rights were “the cornerstone” of women’s and girls’ empowerment, which was one the most efficient ways to eradicate poverty and stabilize population growth.  Significant development gains would be achieved when women entered the work force and contributed to job creation.

Turning to the issue of unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted diseases, he pointed out that pregnancy and delivery were the single biggest cause of death in 15- to 19-year-old girls in developing countries.  In order to save them, it was urgent to operationalize the Cairo agenda and the Millennium Development Goals.  Universal access to contraception, strengthening of health systems by integrated and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, and access to comprehensive sex education for all girls, boys, men and women were essential in that endeavour.

He said that the participation of young people in all levels of decision-making was necessary in guaranteeing that their needs were taken into account.  Investing in youth education and employment, including that of girls, would contribute to poverty reduction and aid social and economic development.  In that regard, the high-level task force viewed the participation of adolescents and youth as “a central political and programmatic commitment”.  However, none of those development targets could be achieved without significant international and national financial resources, and he urged that such resources not be viewed as a cost, but as a “highly beneficial investment”, which promoted both economic growth and the well-being of the world’s citizens, in particular, youth.

HU HONGTAO (China) said the world had the largest-ever population of young people aged 10 to 24, most of them living in environments very different from those of their parents’ early years.  Improving the sexual and reproductive health status of adolescents and youth, and promoting their integrated development were of critical importance to attaining the Cairo goals and achieving sustainable and equitable development.  It was important to further understand the importance of improving adolescent sexual and reproductive health, and to ensure that strategies to address those issues were integrated into national policy.  Also of importance was to increase financial input into reproductive health and family planning, as a shortage of such funds dragged down the attainment of the goal to attain universal access to reproductive health.  The international community must also optimize the provision of comprehensive and sexual and reproductive health and family planning information, and services to adolescents and youth, with full respect paid to confidentiality and privacy of those young clients.  Special attention should be given to vulnerable groups, such as rural youth, disabled youth, homeless youth and youth living with HIV/AIDS.

He stressed the need to enhance the sense of ownership among adolescents.  Capacity-building for family development conducive to healthy adolescent growth should be improved, and conditions and environments should be built up that enabled family education.  Adolescents and youth represented the future, and a healthy young generation was a fundamental guarantee for sustainable development.  China would work hand in hand with the international community to promote sexual and reproductive health and integrate the healthy growth of adolescents and youth.

Statements by Youth Representatives

SOUADOU NDOYE, a youth representative from Senegal and biology major at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, spoke of her participation in “Synergie banlieues”, a youth organization dedicated to the development and improvement of the lives of adolescents and young people in the local communities.  As a young woman of 22 years, she was much different than girls her age that did not have the opportunity to go to school or ask questions about reproductive rights or dare to go to a health clinic.

She said that, in Senegal, there were more than 12 million people, with half under the age of 20.  Those adolescents and young people faced profound challenges, including sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, teenage motherhood and drug use.  The need for improved access to HIV prevention and health care was urgent.  However, there was a lack of appropriate education, impacted by cultural taboos against discussing sexuality and reproductive rights.  The lack of appropriate education was also impacted by illiteracy, which, in turn, resulted in high levels of school dropouts, specifically young girls.  That “sombre picture” often led to teenage marriages and early pregnancy, and she shared that her childhood friend, at age 16, got pregnant and could not attend school.  Instead, she was alone with her child, with no skills and no job.

Another health challenge of adolescent girls and young women was female circumcision and the infection that often resulted from such cutting, she said.  With taboos and societal disapproval of young people asking questions about sexuality and reproductive health, and with many young people unable to attend school, access to health information was limited.  Senegal also had a large population of street children, numbering over 200,000, who lived on the roads in rural areas.  Impacted by hunger and a lack of food, those children were often the subjected to multiple abuses.  As well, information on the number of children with handicaps, under-age rape victims, and children living in prisons, among others, with access to health care and information was not fully understood.  There was also the difficulty of going to a health centre that was “made for adults”.

In her own experience, she recalled that her neighbourhood of Pikine et Guédiawaye had been flooded, displacing 800,000 people, including her family, to makeshift homes without social services.  That had led to abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.  In the face of those challenges, simple and appropriate solutions could be offered, including peer education.  “We need adults,” she said, but the youth “must be in the forefront to tackle their own problems”.  Her organization, Synergie banlieues, was partnering with a project, “Aar Xaleye”, which meant “protect the young” in Wolof; the two were working to develop cooperation between all sectors in health and education.

Poverty and the lack of opportunity put young people at risk, she said.  The need to increase the budget for human capital, and young people in particular, was essential to addressing those issues.  Health education should take place in both formal and informal settings, and more young people should be included in decision-making and policy development.  “This has to be a reality, and not just a policy,” she stressed, so that urban and rural young people could “enjoy all their rights” to health care and reproductive health services.  Even in the face of that major challenge, she and her peers were optimistic that, by increasing awareness with officials and with one another, change could happen.  However, she stated firmly, “Everything done without us is done against us.”

ANGGA DWI MARTHA, a 21-year-old youth speaker from Indonesia, recounted how overwhelmed and confused he was growing up and dealing with puberty and sexuality, simply because there was no one to ask for advice.  Too scared to ask adults what was happening as it was considered taboo and shameful to talk about such things, he recalled how he resorted to using his village’s “very limited” school library for information and how he and his classmates had to take turns reading the one book on the subject “hiding in shame” in the corner of that library.  He ascribed that “shame” to teachers and adults who got angry at them for reading such books, with the perception that their desire to know more about their sexuality and their bodies was a sign of immorality.  He described as “heartbreaking” having to witness the challenges that he and his friends were going through, including seeing schoolmates being forced out of school because they became pregnant, and others dropping out because of drug abuse.

Now, actively involved with several youth-led organizations in Indonesia, he said he sees that young people were working together to respond to those challenges.  In the organizations he was involved in, there was a great exchange of information and knowledge via the use of social media “by young people and for young people”.  “Our aim is simple:  to prove that young people, when provided with skills and the support that they need, can highly contribute to society.  But, it is not simple, especially when you, ladies and gentlemen, do not recognize us as strategic partners,” he declared.  He urged that young people be taken into account in all phases of decision-making that affected their lives; that they have a voice and take up leadership roles to address the issues that mattered most to them.  To be a true partner in development, young people required investment, because that would yield high returns and could be the answer to addressing the poverty and unemployment faced by many young people all over the world.

He urged the meeting to listen to what the young people were saying, particularly on what he called “four urgent matters”:  good quality education, including sex education; good health care to enable young people to participate in their national development and good quality HIV prevention, treatment and care services that were based on universal human rights principles unlimited by social and cultural barriers; job opportunities; and opportunities for active involvement in the global development agenda, including at the United Nations.

Discussion

Opening the exchange, the representative of the United States, speaking in his capacity as the advisor on youth issues to United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said that when talking with youth around the world and hearing about the issues confronting them, it was striking to learn how they were not seen as strategic partners.  The United States was making efforts to remedy that issue, as well as to address relevant problems, such as the existence of child brides.

The representative of Indonesia said that young people were diverse in nature, and reproductive services and family planning needed to be made available.  Meaningful discourse should be translated “from the paper to the people”, and participation from the global South should be encouraged, particularly among women and girls, so that they could participate in the global development agenda.

Uganda’s representative stressed the need to make commitments matter.  He said he was angry because his delegation’s youth representatives had been denied access to the United States to participate in the Commission.  The proper enabling framework must be put in place to allow youth to travel outside their respective countries to make their case in the global arena and have their voices heard.

Struck by the differences between the experiences of the Youth Representatives and those found in her own country, the representative of the Netherlands asked for recommendations on how to increase youth participation.

The representative of the Philippines asked if there was a framework for reproductive health within the respective countries, and also pointed to the severe ramifications of teenage pregnancy.

The representative from Norway commented that it was important, not only to give young people the space to participate in decision-making, but to make sure that they could participate in a relevant and meaningful way.

Responding, Mr. Martha said that, in Indonesia, there was a youth parliament representing each of the country’s 33 provinces, which met each year to talk about education, job opportunities, health and civic participation.  Those representatives were selected by young people themselves.  If groups or Governments wanted to work with youth, they needed to make young people their peers.

Ms. Ndoye said that she would be “a little feminist” in her response, and stressed that girls should be involved in development and must be encouraged to stay in school so that they can be part of that discussion.  Instead of taking part in early sexual relations, girls in particular, should be given the message that they could actively contribute to their region’s development — but that they needed to study in order to do that.

The representative of South Africa also drew attention to the need for youth to stay and school, and the role that played in reducing HIV/AIDS infection rates.

In closing, Mr. Martha reiterated that if groups and Governments wanted to work with young people, they needed to recognize their rights, such as education, health and employment.  Health was of particular importance, since good education and job opportunities were not possible without it.

In her closing remarks, Ms. Ndoye said she hoped go home and reassure the young people of Senegal about redressing the problems facing youth, particularly the lack of information on sexual health, as they needed that information to know how to refrain from or protect themselves during sexual activity.  Governments also should turn their attention to street children, who really needed their help.

Keynote Address

ANDREW MASON, Professor of Economics at the University of Hawaii, delivered a thirty-minute presentation on “Adolescents and Youth:  Their Numbers and Economic Roles”.  He said that the future of every country — rich or poor — depended on how successfully the international community supported its young people during that critical time in their lives.  His presentation described demographic trends, and the disparities between more and less developed countries, especially with regards to spending on health and education.  The three important drivers of those disparities were limited resources, greater reliance on family rather than Governments for support — leaving poorer youth at a disadvantage — and higher populations of young people.

Worldwide, rapid growth of the adolescent and youth population was ending and an era of stability was beginning, he said.  While adolescent and youth populations in Africa would grow substantially, they would decline significantly in Europe, Latin America and many Asian countries.  Thus, the rapid growth over the past 60 years or more was giving way to global stability, and Africa would emerge as the centre of growth for adolescent and youth populations.  While those populations were also growing in North America and Oceania, it was at relatively slower rates.  In other regions of the world, the numbers of adolescents and youth had already peaked.  China’s youth population had peaked in the mid-1980s at about 350 million.  India’s youth population peaked shortly before 2000.  Nigeria’s youth population would surpass that of China’s in 2085, he projected.

He said that the emergence of low fertility around the world was inevitably leading to a decline in the share of adolescent and youth population.  By 2060, youth shares would prevail in most of sub-Saharan Africa and a few other countries around the world, but would decline to very low levels in the vast majority of countries.  As to what advantages could be found in having either a high or low youth share, he said that the answer was not obvious.  While a large cohort of youth offered a potentially rich resource to countries, that was only true if that resource was effectively harnessed.  To capitalize on that potential, countries needed to first create a dynamic economy that would serve as an engine of job creation and provide productive employment.

He further said that the gap between human capital spending in rich and poor countries was enormous.  In the United States, that spending was almost $140,000 per person aged 10 to 24, while in Kenya, that number was only $1,200.  Even while controlling for differences in income across countries, capital spending in poor countries still lagged well-behind rich ones.  Another driver of the human capital spending disparity was the system through which children gained access to economic resources.  In both rich and poor countries, 55 per cent of consumption for youth aged 18 to 24 was provided by themselves, 40 per cent came from their families, and the remainder came from the public sector.  In poor countries, access to resources was, thus, primarily dictated by the resources available to their families — putting them at a great disadvantage.

He said that to assist with this and other challenges, external resources should be increased and targeted at adolescents and youth.  Governments could become more actively engaged in health and education programmes, and poor countries with high fertility rates could emphasize smaller families and greater investments in each child.

Discussion

The representative of Norway suggested that one solution to overcome the age issue was to allow older people to work longer and to have youth begin work earlier.

Responding, Mr. Mason noted that the biggest problem was the transition between departing school and beginning employment, particularly in current times.  Policies that created jobs and opportunity were critical.  There were, however, some European countries, such as Germany and Austria, where corporations and companies participated with job training during that particular transition.

The representative of Cuba, noting that there were more adolescents than adults at this time, especially in developing countries, asked how anyone could live in a world with a lack of human capital to support them?

Mr. Mason concurred, noting that a large adolescent population was an issue particular to developing countries.  However, supporting the development of adolescents was a worldwide concern.  He also commented that the issue of migration of youth to richer countries was highly complex and that obviously the best solution would be to create jobs in the home country.  As that was not always done, he stressed it was a fundamental right was to seek employment, if none existed in one’s home country.

Responding to the request by the representative of UNFPA that the data be discussed not in terms of age ranges, but in terms of gender, Mr. Mason said that, although the data was not available, it was a priority and that it was being worked on at the current time.

The delegate of Botswana asked about how countries with limited resources seemed to have high fertility rates, while countries with high resources had low fertility rates.  Noting that it appeared that way, Mr. Mason also said there were countries with low resources that had achieved low fertility rates, as well.

The representative of Uganda said that his country was “sandwiched” between having a big population for a strong market and a lower fertility rate for health and sustainability.  Mr. Mason emphasized that having a big population was not advantageous to development and he pointed out that there had been small countries that focused on reducing fertility and had development growth.  It was more important, in his view, to worry about having too many kids without enough support, than having too few.

In that vein, the representative of Senegal stated that the presentation confirmed the European Report on Development study.

Resumed Discussion on Cairo Follow-up

SIGNE BURGSTALLER ( Sweden) said that the right to meaningful participation was important and was a prerequisite for the full enjoyment by young people of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Everyone, regardless of disability, age, ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation, or any other status, should have the same rights and possibilities to be meaningfully involved in decision-making.

She said that evidence and human rights-based comprehensive sex education was key to ensuring that young people were empowered to make informed decisions on their sexual and reproductive health.  That included practising safer sex, preventing unintended and unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, and equipping young people with a positive view on sexuality and equal gender relations.  There was a large unmet need for contraceptives, and many of those who were denied the right to access them were young, unmarried girls.  The direct effect of that was an unacceptably high, preventable maternal mortality and morbidity rate among young women.

The international community must take all necessary measures to change the current situation, wherein childbirth and unsafe abortions were among the leading causes of death among pre-adolescent girls aged 15 to 19, she said.  To effectively promote gender equality, the international community could not focus only on women and girls, but needed to engage men and boys as partners in order to address negative stereotypes and forms of masculinity, as well as attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls.

FRANK SWIACZNY (Germany), noting that over the next 10 to 20 years, his country’s population would shrink, be older and more diverse, said that the consequences of that demographic change could not be fully assessed.  However, the situation would offer opportunities for Germany to “allow a thorough modernization” of its policy.  Although there were no models for that adaptation, he was confident his country would maintain its quality of living if “it set its course now”.  In that regard, it had taken on the challenges by implementing a comprehensive and broad initiative and adopting a Report on the Demographic Situation and Future Development of Germany, which included projections and impacts on individuals in policy areas.

He said that since the current generation was living longer than previous ones, his country wanted to utilize the opportunities engendered by the increased life expectancy.  Although the traditional family structure was changing, the family as a nucleus would remain the foundation of a healthy society.  Efforts would be necessary, however, to transform attitudes concerning family and children, as well as the contributions of older people.  Towards that goal, his Government was addressing three priorities, namely, strengthening families, promoting health and motivation at work, and living an independent and self-determined life.  That initiative cut across other themes, as well, including quality of life in rural and urban areas and ensuring growth, while coping with upcoming challenges.

As Germany’s population aged, education was more and more important in guaranteeing new skilled young workers and maintaining economic growth and prosperity, he said.  Thus, education was now being promoted at every age, starting in early childhood, and included the establishment of additional opportunities for young people, as well as better occupational training and higher and continuing education programmes.  Demographic change required international cooperation, and if the right environment for that transition was created, then countries would be able to facilitate sustainable development.  Germany was available to share its experiences and was prepared to assist interested countries in finding solutions to their own challenges of social change.

CHRISTOPHE DE BASSOMPIERRE (Belgium), aligning his remarks with those of the European Union, reaffirmed support for the Cairo Action Plan until and beyond the anniversary date in 2014.  For Belgium, education was a priority area for addressing population and development challenges; it was important in giving young people a better chance for a bright future, but it was equally paramount in increasing awareness of sexual and reproductive rights and their knowledge about family planning.

Noting the special attention given to the empowerment of girls and women and to the problems of sexual and gender based violence, he said that, despite the efforts by the civil society and many national authorities, female genital mutilation was still widespread in many countries, and women and girls were victims of violence in times of conflict and war.  Young people — boys and girls — were often forced to join rebel armies and were drugged, traumatized and “marked for life”.  However, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report showed that many young people wished to take up their destiny and change the horizon to the best of their abilities.  The international community should share their optimism by joining them in their actions and by taking advantage of their creative and positive outlook.

VITALY KOLBANOV (Russian Federation) said that the Cairo Programme laid a solid basis for developing and undertaking a comprehensive national policy on population and development.  He commended the informative nature of the Secretary-General’s report, but said that while his delegation endorsed its central thesis, the report placed exclusive emphasis on the negative impacts of population growth.  It did not take into account the progress made in some countries as a result of population growth.  In the Russian Federation, for example, an increase in population had been an important driving force in growing the economy.

He expressed concern over the question of the proportion of young people, however, in light of the generally recognized trend of demographic ageing of the population.  He said account should be taken of the interests and priorities of all countries, in a way that was “measured and balanced”.

JON CARLOS ALFONSO FRAGA (Cuba) spoke of his country’s involvement with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which focused on development, in particular, with regard to youth.  In several meetings over the years, the Economic Commission’s regional plans and strategies addressed aging, migration and indigenous population.  Its recent meeting focused on youth mortality, with an emphasis on youth health, reproductive rights, violence and addictions, among other challenges faced by young people in the region.

Also at that meeting, he said that measures stemming from international summits aimed at eliminating all forms of discrimination against children and women were adopted.  Supported by the UNFPA, the Economic Commission urged all parties to work towards achieving the objectives and goals of the Cairo Action Programme by 2014.  At its upcoming meeting, the Economic Commission would review the analysis of what had been achieved and what remained to be done towards the objectives and goals of the Cairo Action Plan.

MARTIN BULÁNEK, representative of the European Union delegation, commended the Commission for focusing on the human rights of adolescents and young people, and stressed that the achievement of de facto gender equality was a fundamental right, as well as a precondition for economic growth and social cohesion.  In its own capacity, the Union had developed two key agreements.  The first, “Youth in Action 2007-13” was a programme aimed at young people’s active European citizenship and involvement in shaping the Union’s future through youth exchanges, youth initiatives and youth democracy projects.  The more recent agreement was the Renewed Framework of European Cooperation in the Youth Field 2010-2018, which focused on key areas affecting Europe’s young people, in particular education, employment, social inclusion and health and well-being, among others.  Additionally, youth participation was a priority on local, national and regional levels.

He said that the Union’s member States believed that evidence- and rights-based and gender-sensitive comprehensive sexuality education contributed to gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls and young people, and the elimination of various forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  HIV and AIDS were still serious threats to development and spread through unsafe sex, which underscored the imperative to further integrate sexual and reproductive health and rights into policies and programmes at local, regional and international levels.  Comprehensive sex education, inside and outside school settings, access to youth-friendly information and health services, among others, should be part of the response to HIV and AIDS, and men and boys should be informed of their responsibilities.

Such best practices were derived from the activities of the European Union’s member countries, which included publicity campaigns combating peer pressure and sexual coercion, comprehensive sex education, and youth-friendly services.  “Addressing these issues is not easy,” he noted, acknowledging that dialogue between generations could be complex and awkward.  The key was mutual respect, as investing in young people was a “sustainable investment”.  To support the full implementation of the Cairo outcome, the Beijing Declaration, and Platform for Action, the Union would pay particular attention to ensuring that health systems provided information and gender equality.

ABDUL MOMEN (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the South-South initiative Partners in Population and Development, said that the world population, which grew to 7 billion people late last year, would reach 9.3 billion by the year 2050, according to the most recent United Nations estimates.  In that regard, UNFPA had underscored poverty, inequality, women’s and girls’ empowerment, reproductive health and rights, young people, ageing populations, environment and urbanization as among the urgent, as ongoing critical issues.  Those were also expected to have tremendous impact on the central theme of the Economic and Social Council’s Ministerial Review.

He said that the importance of adolescents and youth, their situation in different national contexts, and their varied aspirations for the future could not be overemphasized.  The Partners in Population and Development had undertaken a number of initiatives to address important key priority issues that affected young people.  Those included promoting gender equity and equality and investing in support of adolescent girls, reducing gender-based sexual violence, and meeting sexual and reproductive health needs and rights.  Endeavours also included preventing HIV, equipping young people with accurate knowledge and skills, and providing age-appropriate sexuality education and youth-friendly services.

It was sad and unfortunate that South-South cooperation, as a modality of change, was not adequately funded or supported, he said.  ODA from the North had all been “well below the mark” especially in promoting South-South cooperation in the field of population and reproductive health, including family planning, as key aspects for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development, and for eradicating poverty.  He appealed to countries from the North to provide greater support to South-South cooperation, as a complement to North-South cooperation.

HASSAN YOUSIF, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said that in order to fully implement the Programme of Action in Africa, the international community needed to engage adolescents and youth at all levels.  ECA members were committed to the implementation of the Cairo Programme, and to undertaking the necessary measures for integrating population and development issues.  Regional reviews indicated that implementation in Africa was fragmentary, and countries that had sound population and development polices had yet to develop programmes and action plans for their implementation.

The Cairo Action Plan had been derailed in Africa by cultural and behavioural factors, and by the lack of certain laws and policies, such as minimum age at marriage and retirement age.  While efforts had been made since 1994 by ECA member States, much remained to be done to fully implement the Cairo agenda in Africa beyond 2014, although preparations for that critical stage were already under way.  Spearheaded by ECA, UNFPA and the African Union Commission, the “ICPD Beyond 2014” activities would be intensified to undertake the operational review of implementation, on the basis of the highest-quality data and analysis of the state of population and development in Africa.

General Debate on National Experience

MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that more than half of Africa’s population was young, which was an asset for socio-economic development.  The Decade for Youth and Development 2009-2018 was an opportunity to advance the youth development agenda in all member States across the African Union.  During the Decade, the Union Commission and member States would collectively implement the Union’s 10-year action plan for youth development in Africa, which focused on priority areas in the member countries.

He said the Group recognized the importance of paying special attention to adolescents and youth, particularly those that were marginalized, including unskilled, out-of-school, unemployed youth, as well as youth living in rural areas, living with HIV or disabilities, youth in situations of armed conflict, and girls and young women.  It was pertinent, therefore, to address challenges, such as human trafficking, especially of young women and girls, substance abuse, social exclusion, child and forced marriages, unintended pregnancies, maternal mortality, new HIV infections and discrimination.

Young people, as much as all people, had the right to enjoy the highest standard of physical and mental health, he said.  A supportive environment should be created for them as they made the transition to adulthood.  Further, girls’ lack of education combined with their already low economic status reduced their autonomy and self-esteem, and thus, enhanced the risk for sexual exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation, sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy and gender-based violence.  While Africa had made positive gains towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals, limited resources remained one of the continent’s biggest challenges, and he reiterated the call for its development partners to enhance cooperation through the technology transfer and international cooperation.

ISMAEL GASPAR MARTINS (Angola), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that youth development was a top priority for the region.  Further, the attainment of sexual reproductive health outcomes was a key determinant to the realization of all Millennium Development Goals for the African continent and, in particular, the SADC region.  Many daunting challenges remained, the biggest being youth unemployment, for which regional efforts should be strengthened.

He said that the understanding of the concept of youth participation and empowerment often varied between Member States and organizations working across the region.  That created a lack of regional comparability, and made coordinating youth development a major challenge.  Although some gains had been made to reduce poverty, progress had been uneven.  Youth often had limited access to adequate health care, education and training.  He called for strengthened international cooperation on adolescents and youth through the fulfilment of all ODA commitments, including technology transfer for capacity-building.

ABDULKHALEQ ALI SAEED BIN-DHAAER AL-YAFEI (United Arab Emirates), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, stressed that the right to education and the need for its full realization was necessary for human and sustainable development, and the provision of quality education for children, youth and adults in order for them to develop knowledge and skills needed for progress.  Youth comprised the largest age group among Arab populations, representing more than a third of the total population of the Arab region.  However, the region had experienced an increase in youth unemployment, which needed to be addressed through integrated national policies aimed at youth employment and the creation of comprehensive job opportunities.

He said the Arab Declaration for youth empowerment, within the framework of the Arab League, was a guiding document and a key reference for the preparation of national and regional policies aimed at empowering youth and strengthening their participation in development efforts.  The establishment of the Arab Observatory for Youth within the League of Arab States aimed to activate the strategic directions of the Arab Declaration for Youth Empowerment.

The Group expressed its deep concern about the deteriorating political situation and economic and social development of the Palestinian people, especially young people, he said.  There was no doubt that the continuous Israeli military occupation of Arab and Palestinian lands, and the escalating repression, killings, arrests, settlements and other offenses, contributed to the deteriorating conditions of Palestinians, especially young people.

PRINCE HLANGUSEMPHI DLAMINI, Minister of Economic Planning and Development, Swaziland, stated that of his country’s more than 1 million people, 36.7 per cent were between the ages of 10 and 24.  Their challenges, like many young people in other countries, included HIV infection, sexual and substance abuse, high unemployment and teenage pregnancy.  HIV and AIDS, though, still remained a major challenge, resulting in an unprecedented rise in child and maternal mortality and a decline in life expectancy.  According to the Demographic and Health Survey, 26 per cent of his country’s population between the ages of 15 and 49 were infected, with women disproportionately affected at 31 per cent, as compared to 20 per cent of men.  However, in the National HIV Ante Natal Serosurveillance Survey, HIV prevalence in the 15 to 19-year-old group had declined from 26.3 per cent in 2008 to 20.4 per cent in 2010.  That offered a “glimmer of hope” of controlling the epidemic.  Interventions included biomedical and culturally based adolescent and youth programmes, and he said that if those were “scaled up” towards universal access for adolescents and youth, an HIV-free generation would be possible.

Noting the many strategies implemented by his country, including the National Integrated Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy, National Youth Policy and the recent Children’s Protection and Welfare Bill just passed in Parliament, he highlighted some of the major interventions with Swaziland’s development partners and non-governmental organizations.  Those included free primary education, as well as the Orphaned and Vulnerable Children’s Fund.  As youths were most affected by unemployment, with rates as high as 60 per cent, the Youth Development Fund had been created to develop entrepreneurship skills and create a culture of self-employment.  However, he called for his country’s development partners to honour their pledges, in order to ensure that the youths of Swaziland accessed the necessary information and services.  If investments were made, the “noble” goals of reducing unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection, and bolstering youth reproductive health and well-being, would be achieved.

SUGIRI SYARIEF ( Indonesia) said that his country’s medium- and long-term development plan placed adolescents and youth at the centre of its national development agenda.  The compulsory Basic Education Program, launched in 1994, ensured a basic education through junior secondary levels for all children between the ages of 7 and 15.  With national budget allotments and the establishment of alternative means of education for children unable to attend formal school, the results were encouraging, with increased school attendance.  However, the dropout rate at higher levels of education, especially among girls, remained a challenge.  That trend pushed adolescents and young people into the labour market.  His country would address those issues by providing vocational training and increasing compulsory education to 12 years, covering senior secondary schools, as well.

In another achievement, he noted that the first marriage- and child-bearing age for women had gone up and birth rates had declined.  Under discussion was the adjustment of the early age of girls in the Marriage Law.  He also pointed to a decline in adolescent child-bearing statistics.  However, there, the needs of married women between the ages of 15 and 24 were not being met successfully.  In that regard, the President had declared in 2007 the need to revitalize the national family planning programme, which would strengthen political commitment, sharpen policy and strategy, and improve programme management.  Following the Cairo commitment, his country had launched its Reproductive Health National Strategy and, in 2000, the Adolescent Reproductive Health Program had become a national one.  At present, Indonesia was focusing on accelerating universal access to reproductive health and was currently revising existing reproductive health strategies, including introducing the concept of reproductive health and rights in the current health law.

LEONEL BRIOZZO ( Uruguay) stated that talking about youths was not the future but the present.  Without them, there would be no future.  Thus, it was essential to build together “with youth tools” a future that included them.  Since 2005, his country had implemented programmes to build development.  There had been many achievements, including a decline in maternal mortality and a decrease in unsafe abortions.  An unprecedented health initiative included women who had unwanted pregnancies.  As abortion was still illegal, a situation that he hoped would be changed soon, women participating in the initiative could access information, which was not a criminal act.  Further, the development of universal access to reproductive health through the law and through the establishment of health systems “stabilized” adolescent pregnancy by making available health services, information and contraceptive methods.

Continuing, he said that the greatest challenge of his Government was to eliminate poverty, which impacted women more than men.  Thus, it was critical to adopt measures to ensure laws and standards, and to have a budget to support the necessary actions, including developing partnerships with young people and with academia.  His Government also took action on the use of cigarettes and alcohol, resulting in an impact on usage.  It was also addressing gender violence, in particular, the trafficking of women in the sex trade.

The commitment to Cairo was “a mirror that inspired our legislation and our lives”, he stated, and there was progress in both his country and in the region.  The Cairo agenda was a cross-cutting system that enabled gender equality and sustainable development.  With the priorities of a better education for boys and girls, including on reproductive rights, children, adolescents and young people would make informed decisions with autonomy and confidence.  He also stressed that information and education should not come only from the family circle, but from professionals.  Although his country was small, it had the potential to be a “social laboratory” that could prove that the Cairo Programme was achievable.  In that regard, his country wished to contribute its experience to other countries.  “You can count on us,” he stated.

ALICE BIKISSA NEMBE (Gabon) said youth faced situations that could compromise their future, and it was necessary to emphasize the impact of the socio-economic realities of adolescents and what those meant in terms of their health.  Health policy in Gabon was based on a greater involvement of the population, as well as partnerships between them, the State and development partners.  Gabon adhered to Cairo’s core recommendations, and in that context, had fought to implement efforts in favour of the health of adolescents and young people, including standards for reproductive health, which was included in its national policy for the period 2003 to 2015.

She said Gabon was also sustaining its cooperation with its development partners, and hoped those partnerships would be strengthened.  Non-governmental organizations, in association with young people, were working to raise health awareness within communities.  The Government was also introducing modules on sex education into schools, combined with information distributed to families and communities.  She welcomed the consultations conducted by UNFPA on its new guidelines, and was reminded that to invest in youth was a win-win strategy to reduce poverty.  Such an investment should give priority to young people and adolescents, making training and economic inclusion even more effective.

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*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release POP/995 of 15 April 2011.

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.