Failure to invest in Young People ‘a False Economy’, Secretary-General tells UN General Assembly
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Youth, in New York today, 25 July:
Let me first share my shock about the terror attack in Norway on Friday. I condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms. I am particularly saddened that this murderer singled out young people keen to engage meaningfully in the future of their country.
This atrocity stands in stark opposition to the theme of this Meeting, which is dialogue and mutual understanding. I called Prime Minister [Jens] Stoltenberg on Saturday and I told him I was moved by his consoling yet principled message to his fellow citizens that underlined Norway’s values of tolerance, respect and commitment to international cooperation. My condolences go out to the families of the bereaved and to the Government of Norway.
Let me now turn to today’s event.
I am pleased to be with you today as we conclude the International Year of Youth. I am grateful to the many distinguished Heads of State and Government and ministers who have joined us. And I particularly welcome the large contingent of young people here today.
Your energy always gives me lift. So does your sense of style. Ms. [Alek] Wek, you are, of course, an icon of style. But more importantly, you are an example of an inspiring ending to what could have been one more of many, many tragic stories.
Earlier this month, I had the enormous pleasure of attending the independence ceremonies of the country of your birth — South Sudan, the newest member of the community of nations. You and I both will work in our own ways to help our 193rd Member State of the United Nations achieve the peace and prosperity it seeks. South Sudan will need the full support of the international community. And the country’s young people can and must play a central role.
Mr. [Romulo] Dantas, I visited your country twice in the past two years, though regrettably not your home city of São Paolo. I met with young people in Rio’s Babilonia favela, and talked with them and young people from other favelas. Not all have had your fortune to escape violence and drugs, receive an education and find work.
Meeting them made me think of the more than 1 billion young people in today’s world; the vast majority live in developing countries. Some receive a good education and can look forward to decent jobs and rewarding lives. But too often, young people lack the education, freedom and opportunities they deserve.
Unemployment rates for young people are three to six times the rate for adults, and informal, low-wage and insecure work is the norm. This is especially true for young women, the disabled and indigenous youth. Increasingly, young people are saying to their elders and to their Governments: “This is not the world we want.” That clear conviction is part of what has made the past year a momentous year for youth.
In Tunisia, which initiated the General Assembly resolution for this International Year of Youth, young people have been at the centre of a movement for change that is sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. You all know the story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire last December. He was a young man — 27 years old, tired and frustrated by the privations and indignities of life. He saw so little future for himself and his countrymen and women that he sacrificed himself. His death was tragic, but the fires he lit led to the downfall of two autocrats — first in Tunisia, then in Egypt.
The fires have travelled far since then. The Facebook generation is showing a growing resolve to change our world and a capacity to make things happen. They are bringing their energy and courage to some of the most difficult issues we face. Young people are standing up for the rights of those who suffer discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation. They are confronting sensitive issues — talking to their peers and working to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS. And they are leading the charge to adopt a green model for development.
Young people often understand better than older generations that we can and must transcend our religious and cultural differences in order to reach our shared goals. Our job, distinguished representatives of the General Assembly, is to work for them — and with them — to make sure they can inherit the world they want; the world promised by the United Nations Charter; a world built on dialogue and mutual understanding.
The international community must work to expand the horizons of opportunity for young women and men and answer their legitimate demands for dignity and decent work. The global economic crisis and austerity measures in many countries are constraining these opportunities. When youth lack opportunity they are more easily led to crime and violence, to drugs and risky sex, and the slippery slope to the bottom of the social scale.
Failing to invest in our youth is a false economy. Conversely, investing in young people will pay great dividends for all. The United Nations is doing a considerable amount to invest in youth. We are acquiring knowledge and best practices about the issues affecting young people today. And we are making greater efforts to engage youth in our negotiating and decision-making processes.
Still, I do not think we have gone nearly far enough. Esteemed members of the General Assembly, allow me to go over your heads and ask the youth delegates one or two questions: Are we doing enough for you? Please answer me. Are we doing enough? Can we do more? Thank you very much. Thank you.
I think we can do, and we must do more for our young people. They are the leaders of tomorrow. You may be, and I may be, leader of today, but it will be they who will stand here, who will lead this world tomorrow. Next June, the United Nations will gather in Rio for one of the most important meetings in UN history. The “Rio+20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will help to determine our collective future. That is why it is such a priority for me. And I hope and expect it will be a top priority for Heads of State and Government of all Members States.
I have called climate change the defining issue of our time. Indeed we must go even further. We must make sustainable development for all the defining issue of our time, because it is only in that broader framework that we can address climate change and the needs of our citizens. Young people can and must play a central role in bringing dynamic new ideas, fresh thinking and energy to the Rio+20 process. We should all work to engage them and ensure that their voices are heard.
One way we may consider doing this is through the United Nations Youth Delegates Programme. I welcome the programme delegates who are here today. By including young people in national delegations to United Nations meetings, Governments not only help youth to gain a better understanding of the complexities of negotiations, they gain an insight into the needs and views of youth. The role and responsibility of leaders is to listen and respond to the legitimate aspirations of their people — including the youth.
The Youth Delegates Programme is an important opportunity for young people to represent themselves meaningfully on the international stage. I therefore recommend all Member States of the United Nations to review their participation in this important Programme, and for all parties — youth, United Nations entities and Governments — to evaluate how their programmes related to youth can link with it.
The International Year of Youth may be coming to a close, but our obligations to young people remain. That means promoting a culture of dialogue and mutual understanding. And it means tackling the pressing issues of our times: climate change, nuclear disarmament, women’s and children’s health, strengthening democracy, achieving the Millennium Development Goals and ensuring sustainable development that benefits all people while protecting the planet. It means strengthening global solidarity. The famine in parts of Somalia is only the latest test.
We live in a changing and volatile world. Only by working together in common cause can we meet our challenges. To do so, we need youth on our side — indeed in the vanguard. Young people are willing and able to take ownership of their own future and the common ideals we cherish. Let us embrace this energy, this creativity, this idealism for the benefit of all, particularly for young people.