Population Commission Considers Adolescent ‘Window of Vulnerability’ Compounded by Unforgiving Economic Climate that Eliminates Jobs, Increases Migration

25 April 2012

Population Commission Considers Adolescent ‘Window of Vulnerability’ Compounded by Unforgiving Economic Climate that Eliminates Jobs, Increases Migration

25 April 2012
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on Population and Development

Forty-fifth Session

6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)

Population Commission Considers Adolescent ‘Window of Vulnerability’ Compounded

by Unforgiving Economic Climate that Eliminates Jobs, Increases Migration


Forty Speakers Weigh In; One Highlights ‘Twitter Revolution’ Among Youth

Leading to Election of Young Government, New Strategy for National Development

Speaking to the biological shift experienced by young people during the transition from adolescence from adulthood, Professor of Adolescent Health Research at Melbourne University George Patton said that youth experienced a “window of vulnerability” that lasted into the late 20s.

In a keynote address delivered at the Commission on Population and Development today, Mr. Patton said that window was due to a delay in the biological ability to control one’s emotions, which could contribute to the prevalence of homicide and suicide as some of the leading causes of death among young people.  A better understanding of those and other underlying causes of disruptive behaviour could help frame policy decisions to better assist youthful populations to harness their potential in society.  He stressed the need to make young people and their health more visible, and to encourage them to take an active role in their own improvement.

Likewise, many of the more than 40 speakers participating in the debate called attention to the dynamic, albeit complex, nature of that life phase, and emphasized the great assets that youthful segments of the population contributed.

Moldova’s representative drew attention to the “Twitter Revolution”, a political transformation in 2009 that had been initiated by youth, which had led to the election of a young Government and a new strategy for national development — “Moldova 2020”.  The mayor of Moldova’s capital was 34 years old and entering his second elected term.  The youngest mayor of a city in Moldova was 25, and a total of 6.8 per cent of all mayors in Moldova were now between the ages of 25 and 35.

He underscored that those were elected and not appointed, which illustrated, not only a commitment to the youth, but to the direction his country was taking.

However, his country still struggled to balance labour force demands, and faced the key challenge of unemployment in today’s unforgiving economic climate.  With less than 30 per cent of the youth population employed, a large portion of the young qualified labour force was emigrating abroad in search of jobs.  Parents were also migrating, leaving their children with relatives, without proper care.

While transnational legal employment brought significant benefits to the countries of origin and destination, he said, the fact that nearly half of the active population had left his country was of great concern.

Other speakers drew attention to their own efforts to generate employment for young people in order to avoid migration.  Guatemala’s representative said that emphasis had been placed on generating jobs, particularly through small- and medium-sized business enterprises, as the Government wished to avoid migration.  In that regard, Guatemala was promoting public policies for young people.

Iran’s representative stressed that a young population was a country’s “greatest asset”, creating a society that was healthier, happier and more productive.  Due to Government-provided opportunities, a new generation of young Iranian artists, scientists, engineers and teachers was transforming the country’s technological and cultural life.

A representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that education was “a force for equity and equality”, noting that a woman’s level of education impacted, not only her economic and social position, but also her children’s nutrition, health and schooling.

The impact was community-wide, she said, because education was also crucial for combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.  In Malawi, 60 per cent of mothers with secondary education or higher were aware that drugs could reduce transmission rates, while only 27 per cent of uneducated women knew that.  “Education saves lives,” she said, calling on Governments to protect education budgets.

Also speaking during the general debate were the representatives of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Pakistan, Philippines, Cuba, Nepal, Chad, Jamaica, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Indonesia, Israel, Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia and Uzbekistan.

A representative of the European Union delegation also spoke.

Participating, as well, were representative from the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), World Health Organization (WHO), Advocates for Youth, Ipas, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Arrow, Mision Mujer, and Rutgers WPF.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m., on 26 April, to continue its general debate.


The Commission on Population and Development met this morning to continue its general debate on national experiences in population matters:  adolescents and youth.

[For additional background information and official documents for the session, please see the website: www.un.org/esa/population/cpd/cpd2012/cpr45.htm.]

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil) said young people were among those struggling the most to attain and maintain political, social and economic rights, but they were also the group with the greatest potential to address the ongoing and emerging challenges in society.  Adolescents and youth made up the largest population group in Brazil, accounting for about 30 per cent of the population, or about 50 million people, which was an absolute majority among the groups in reproductive age.

She explained how her country was addressing issues related to adolescence and youth.  “Access to health is a constitutional right,” she said, referring to the nation’s health-care system, which was one of the world’s largest public health-care systems with universal coverage.  The health-in-schools programme, currently under implementation in more than 50 per cent of all Brazilian municipalities, included comprehensive education on human sexuality, with a view to providing the necessary information for adolescents to take well-informed decisions about their sexual lives and to enable them to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.  Fertility rates of adolescents between 15 and 19 years of age had dropped in the last decade.  However adolescent pregnancy was still a reason for concern. 

“Investing in our youth has been of utmost importance to lead us closer to achieving the MDGs,” she said, describing how the nation had managed to reduce illiteracy rates and racial and gender inequalities and promote more access to education for young women and girls.  As a result, women were now the majority group in every level of education in Brazil.  An effort was under way to provide opportunities for adolescents in order to enable them to have better work conditions and participate more actively in the economy.  Among such measures was Brazil’s conditional cash transfer programme, which postponed young people’s entry into the labour market and increased years of schooling.

EDUARDO PORRETTI ( Argentina) said that notwithstanding the huge efforts of many local Governments and other key players, the state of sexual and reproductive health remained worrying.  Every year, the access of more than 120 million couples to contraceptive methods was hindered, and 80 million women experienced unwanted pregnancies—45 million of which ended in abortion.  Further, more than half a million women died from complications in childbirth, and countless instances of illness, disability and death resulted from sexually transmitted diseases.

He said that most of the world’s burgeoning youth population lived in developing countries, and his delegation endorsed the view that it was mistakenly assumed that most around the globe had access to reliable information on reproductive issues.  That was not true for the majority of adolescents, especially those in the developing world.  That was even true in moderately developed regions.  In various regions, millions of girls and young women suffered from a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, and many vulnerable young women and girls fell victim to practices such as child marriage, rape, as well as infibulation and female genital mutilation.

As for national experience, he said that in population matters, in 2006 Argentina had launched a programme to help unemployed youth find work.  Also in 2006, it had made secondary education mandatory.  The Government was strengthening national awareness of human rights and improving access to sexual and reproductive health information and care.  In addition to those efforts, Argentina’s legal system had enacted key laws, including a comprehensive protection aimed at eradicating violence against women, a national law on AIDS, and a national programme for responsible sexual and reproductive health.

RAFAEL ARCHONDO ( Bolivia) said that, in 2000, his country had initiated changes between Government and civil society, in a long-term process in the constitutional context.  In 2009, a referendum recognized the rights of young people, who constituted 34 per cent of the population.  That was an unprecedented event in Bolivia’s history.  Sexual and reproductive health plans were aimed at improving access to services and information for adolescents and young people.  Further, recent policies aimed at the rights for young people were part of that change.  A National Youth Plan from 2008 to 2012 took into account the many problems of young people and recognized their full human rights.

Currently, he said, his Government was discussing the National Youth Bill, an institutional framework to address the participation and the obligations of young people and establish proper institutions in that regard.  His country recognized that access to health was a human right and it considered it an obligation to protect and promote sex education and reproductive health, regardless of the status, class, gender, or ethnicity of the person.  Recent surveys showed that 66 per cent of youths had access to the national health system; however, adolescents were most affected when that human right was violated.

Further, knowing that education of young people was crucial to full sexual and reproductive health, his country was providing comprehensive education, he said.  A recent national youth survey showed 66 per cent were educated on HIV and AIDS, while only 50 per cent were knowledgeable in family planning.  That needed to be improved.  Strengthening education in all sexual and reproductive health matters would lead to the eradication of discrimination, particularly against gays, lesbians, and transgender youth, thus leading to a more equalitarian society.  Meanwhile, unemployment was particularly high among young people, and, thus, his Government would pay attention to programmes that would provide them with decent work opportunities.  Bolivia was committed to the 1994 Cairo Programme of Action and to the view that its youth were indispensible to the future.

RODNEY CHARLES ( Trinidad and Tobago) said the Commission’s theme was both timely and relevant, agreeing with other delegations that adolescence was a crucial stage in an individual’s life and that decisions made in that period profoundly impacted the individual’s future.  Consequently, his Government had invested significantly in education, as well as in skills development, to ensure that adolescents and youth were knowledgeable, able to make informed choices, led meaningful productive and enjoyable lives and contributed to sustainable development.  To that end, primary education was compulsory and available at no cost, and secondary and tertiary education was also available at no cost to students in his country.  There were programmes that provided textbooks and meals to students, as well as grants to families in need for the purchase of other relevant supplies to facilitate the attainment of a sound education.

He said that the Population Programme Unit at the Ministry of Health, established in 1969, had been the major provider of sexual and reproductive health services through the country, including fertility management, diagnostic and screening services, contraception and family counselling.  The Ministry was undergoing a transition, to sustain the provision of cost-free services, as well as expand the sexual and reproductive health-services programme.  “Additional services will be provided in the future specifically to the adolescent and youth population”, he said.  He described the important role of a national family planning association in safeguarding against undesired pregnancies as well as sexually transmitted diseases and infections such as HIV/AIDS.  The association also provided counselling.

MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE ( Iran) said that young populations should be considered a solid opportunity for any given society.  In Iran, two out of three Iranians were between the age of 15 and 29, meaning 60 per cent of the population was less than 30 years of age.  That reflected the hope of a better future for the country, as the young population was the greatest asset—one that was healthier, happier and more productive.  The Government had provided opportunities for their participation in all aspects of social life.  Those efforts had already borne fruit, and a new generation of artists, scientists, engineers, and teachers was transforming the country’s technological and cultural life.

He said that a young, educated and productive population was a huge asset, which required strategic planning on the part of Governments.  Health-care services had been extended to the most remote parts of the country, to afford boys and girls full and equal access to secondary and tertiary education.  Iran was also working to reduce poverty, combat abuse and violence, and improve the national capacity to gather, use, and analyse data on adolescents and youth.  That would help protect them against emergency situations and natural disasters, among other things.

JAMIN DORA ZUBEMA, Director-General, National Population Commission on Adolescents and Youths, Nigeria, noted that with an estimated 23 million adolescents and youths, his country had the largest population of adolescents and youth in Africa.  A major concern was the high fertility rates in females aged 15 to 19.  In 2008 a survey found that approximately 23 per cent were likely to be mothers or pregnant with the first child by then, and half of his country’s women were already married at 18, while one in five was married at age 15.  Further, one in five females was sexually active by the age of 15, and although the HIV prevalence rate among the youth population was declining, the epidemic still proved to be a “huge burden” on Nigeria’s economy.

He said that adolescent girls were the most vulnerable to the many challenges facing youths, including extreme poverty, unemployment, social exclusion, and malnutrition, among others.  They experienced unique health problems resulting from under-age child-bearing and unwanted pregnancies, which led to unsafe abortions and high rates of maternal and child mortality.  That group had limited access to appropriate sexual reproductive health information and services, yet they accounted for approximately two-thirds of the estimated 610,000 recorded abortions and nearly 60 per cent of annual new HIV infection.

His country, he affirmed, was committed to prioritizing investments to equip and develop young people in order to safeguard Nigeria’s future.  A Ministry for Youth had been established in 2007 to address their socio-economic challenges.  In addition, the country had hosted a high-level National Consultative Forum on the Health and Development of Young People in 2010, and established pilot youth‑friendly health facilities, with plans to expand into national network.  The first phase of addressing vulnerable youth in northern Nigeria had recently been initiated; boarding schools were being built for young itinerant Islamic scholars in the country’s north-west region, and there were plans to establish 100 such schools each year for the next four years.  In February 2011, vaccination of girls aged 9 to 15 against the human papilloma virus had commenced.  With plans to become a leading and progressive economy in the world by 2020, realizing the potential of Nigeria’s youth population was necessary for achieving that vision.

VITALY KOLBANOV ( Russian Federation) said the nation had managed to significantly increase birth rates and reduce death rates over the last five years.  Three million young people aged 15 to 16 attended school.  About 4.5 million adolescents studied at primary and secondary professional education institutions and more than 7 million attended higher education establishments.  The most important current target was to make substantial improvement in the quality of primary, secondary and higher education.

Pointing to a recent component of health care for children and adolescents, he said that specialized health centres were being established in his country, which had provided services for more than 1 million children and adolescents last year alone.  Doctors, social workers and teachers in those centres were tasked to develop a responsible attitude of youth to their health, to prevent the emergence or growth of illness risk factors, and to instruct youth in hygiene practices, proper nutrition and healthy lifestyles.  The most important part of the centres’ work was to implement special programmes to counter harmful habits affecting the youth, such as alcohol addiction, tobacco smoking and drug abuse.

“Medical, youth and civil society organizations of our country have enhanced their activities for the promotion of reproductive health of adolescent girls and the prevention of abortion,” he said.  A massive information and advocacy campaign had been launched, and new forms of medical and socio-psychological assistance in cases of unplanned pregnancy had been introduced.  As a result, good progress was being made.  In just four years, the number of abortions among girls under age 14 had decreased 1.5 times, and for adolescents aged 15-17, it had also declined significantly.

SHAHZAD AHMAD MALIK ( Pakistan) said that with 180 million people, Pakistan was the sixth most populous country in the world; 104 million of those were under the age of 30, and 35 per cent was below the age of 15.  That youth bulge carried both challenges and opportunities.  While it could offer unique opportunities for economic progress, it also carried with it the challenge of providing education and technical training, creating jobs and providing health facilities.

However he said, there was a lack of “definitional clarity” in terms of the exact age group meant by “adolescents and youth”, owing to the diverse cultural, national and religious contexts that existed within the international community.  Regardless of their precise ages, youths needed assistance, and Pakistan had taken several steps to address their needs, including establishing help lines to provide information and counselling to young people on their sexual and reproductive health concerns.  Other steps included incorporating population and health concerns in school texts, implementing legislative and administrative measures to protect women’s rights, and the Anti-Woman Practices Act of 2011.  That Act dealt with forced marriage as a criminal offence, and imprisoned and fined the perpetrators.

He called for a concerted and continued focus on family planning, the eradication of poverty, and the promotion of research and development, knowledge sharing, and information technology for equitable access to health-care services and medicines for all, especially in developing countries.

VLAD LUPAN ( Moldova), commending the dedication and commitment of the Commission’s participants, underscored the multi-faceted relationship between youth and development.  Speaking from a country that faced post-conflict rehabilitation, he said that discussing youths was discussing the future.  One of the major challenges his country faced was unemployment, with less than 30 per cent of the young population employed and a large portion of the young qualified labour force emigrating abroad in search of jobs.  Parents, as well, were migrating, leaving their children with relatives, without proper attention and care.  While transnational legal employment brought significant benefits to the countries of origin and destination, the fact that nearly half of the active population had left his country was of great concern.  Because of that, his Government was now shifting away from traditionalist approaches to reverse that situation.

Continuing, he said that the National Strategy on employment was focusing more on youth employment, noting that the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports was a former youth leader and at the age of 28 was the youngest minister in the Government.  Further, the mayor of the capital of Moldova was 34 years old and was entering his second elected term.  The youngest mayor of a city in Moldova was 25.  In total, 6.8 per cent of all mayors in Moldova were between the ages of 25 and 35.  He underscored that those were elected and not appointed, which illustrated, not only a commitment to the youth but to the direction his country was taking.  Further examples of policies and strategies supporting the young population were inclusive education for youths with disabilities, national information campaigns against illegal migrations, and improved technical resources at Youth Resource Centres, including better Internet access. 

However, his country still needed to adjust to market demands for labour, improving qualifications, specialties and competitiveness, he said, voicing hope for more foreign direct investment.  There was a discrepancy between education and the market, with 60 per cent of students graduated in law, political sciences and international relations, economy and foreign languages.  However, there were fewer teachers and doctors, particularly in rural areas, where 60 per cent of the population resided.  More concerning was the lack of qualified labour in agriculture, once a vital branch of the economy.  It was necessary to balance the potential in education institutions with the demands of the labour force.

Concluding, he recalled the 2009 political transformation that had been initiated by the youth, the so-called “Twitter Revolution”, which had led to the election of a young Government and a new Strategy for National Development, “Moldova 2020”.  Two-thirds of the resources for development were from the national Government, but the support and resources of the United Nations and its agencies were crucial for continuing successful growth.

BENJAMIN D. DE LEON ( Philippines) said a significant gap remained despite the nation’s considerable efforts to ensure the well-being and rights of adolescents and youth.  He cited a high rate of unwanted pregnancies in adolescents and youth as well as the greatest threat against their health, namely, the unprecedented increase in HIV/AIDS infections among them.

Those issues were also compounded by other significant concerns, he said, including their poor socio-economic conditions; increasing incidence of patriarchal violence against married young women and their children; lack of availability of, and access to, age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services; lack of opportunities for the meaningful participation of youth in health and other development initiatives; and lack of a clear-cut sexual and reproductive health policy.

He called on more affluent Member States, international donors and other partner countries to realize their commitment to development financing and to continue assisting developing countries that sought external sources of financing and technical assistance.  That would enable his nation to improve the health and development conditions of adolescents and youth in particular.

JUAN CARLOS ALFONSO ( Cuba) said that the issues of adolescents and youth were a priority in Cuba, in order to guarantee their rights as key social protagonists, thereby involving them in the country’s economic and social development.  Cuba was a middle-income country, but had set priorities for the whole population, first and foremost, adolescents and youth, and had made it possible to place Cuba among the highest human development indices even though its gross domestic product (GDP) was at “133” in the list identified by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

He said that Cubans had an average of 10 years of schooling, and there was substantial secondary education.  As for health indicators, a Cuban citizen who was 12 years old today had a life expectancy in excess of 77 years, and a 24‑year‑old had a life expectancy of more than 75.  That was an indication of the results achieved in the country.  Not only were adolescents and youth guaranteed well-being under the Constitution and “youth code”, but they also had the possibility of receiving information to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights “from a gender standpoint”. 

GYAN CHANDRA ACHARYA ( Nepal), on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that about 60 per cent of the population of that group was under the age of 25, compared with 46 per cent in other developing countries.  He stressed the need for opportunities for them to participate fully in economic, social and political life.  The potential of young people should be maximized through education and employment; if not, they could be a force of destabilization.  He called for a stronger and targeted global cooperation and support, given the capacity constraints of the least developed nations, and reiterated the need for development partners to provide financial and technical assistance to boost the policies and programmes that offered economic opportunities and productive employment for youth.

He expressed hope that the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ( Rio+20) would take necessary measures to address the problems and challenges relating to population and development and their interplay.  Sustainable development and poverty alleviation had to give due priority to population dynamics and, in particular, to the challenges of adolescents and youth, who were the future of a nation.  He acknowledged the significant role of UNFPA in ensuring access to health services.

PAPOURI TCHINGONBE PATCHANNE ( Chad) said that the issue of adolescents and youth was of particular interest to his country and a priority of his Government.  Adolescents now accounted for 30 per cent of Chad’s 11 million habitants.  The continuous growth of adolescents illustrated increasing fertility and improved health services, with women bearing an average of 6.3 children.  That population would soon be entering the labour force.  Ensuring that skills contributed effectively would depend on education and social, cultural, health and economic conditions.  Faced with those challenges, Chad was taking “bold” actions to safeguard the well-being of adolescents, including establishing a national fund that financed young people’s projects. 

This year, he said, that fund allocated 2 billion CFA francs to each region, totalling 44 billion CFA francs, for youth services and support.  Free medical care for people living with HIV, with adolescents as primary beneficiaries, was now available, and there was also Government financial support for families caring for orphans whose parents had died of AIDS.  Adequate training was also essential for the well-being of the young population, as domestic peace depended on training and labour.  To that end, the majority of income from oil resources was being invested in education and health, with the building of schools and hospitals, infrastructure and highways to enable his country to actualize its full potential.  However, Chad could not resolve its problems alone; it counted on “solidarity” with its partners.  He called on the wealthy nations to support its youth programmes, claiming it was the international community’s responsibility to do so. 

MARIANDREE DE LEON TREJO (Guatemala) said that investing in young people was a priority, and in Guatemala the segment of the population that was between the ages of 14 and 20 was on the rise.  That phenomenon had a profound influence on the current health services and education available to Guatemalans, and also affected the labour market and quality of life.  At present, the Guatemalan economy did not generate enough work for its population of young people.

She said that while some progress had been made, there was still not enough “people in the system”.  The Government was working to remedy that, especially for the poorest segments.  Emphasis had been placed on generating jobs, particularly through small- and medium-sized business enterprises, as the Government wished to avoid migration.  In that regard, Guatemala was promoting public policies for young people.  Efforts were also being made to “disincentivize” sexual relations among teenagers.  She noted that more than 30,000 “women” between the ages of 9 and 18 had become pregnant and many young women died during childbirth.  It was necessary, therefore, to promote sexual education.

EASTON WILLIAMS ( Jamaica) said adolescents and youth had been marginalized from available programmes up until the 1994 Cairo Programme of Action and the key actions for its further implementation.  Programmes friendly to that group were now being implemented in selected health clinics island-wide and into existing family planning and maternal and child health initiatives.  Japan, through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), supported a national programme in his country for the provision of sexual and reproductive health information and care for persons with disabilities.  In the early 2000s, that had been regarded as the first of its kind in the region and probably in the developing world. 

He said that the vast majority of funding for HIV/AIDS in Jamaica was sourced externally, from the Global Fund, the World Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Clinton Foundation and other international development partners.  However, within the next two years, most of those funds would be reduced substantially or totally dried up.  In anticipation of that situation, Jamaica had recently completed a study on the financial sustainability of its national HIV/AIDS programme, which should provide a sound basis for advancing the Government’s policies in that area.  “If my information is correct, it is the first such study to be undertaken in a developing country with support from the World Bank,” he said. 

Turning to education, he said women and girls outperformed men and boys at all levels of the education system in Jamaica.  At the university level, women comprised about 70-80 per cent of all graduates.  Women now dominated the professional, technical and administrative positions in the public sector, but despite those gains, the unemployment rate among female adolescents and youth was twice that of their male counterparts.

DER KOGDA ( Burkina Faso) said that his country was concerned with sexual and reproductive health, as adolescents and young people were sexually active at an early age, resulting in early unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions.  HIV prevalence, while decreasing, was still high.  To address those challenges, several programmes were being implemented, including health services and information dissemination, which included the creation of “advice centres” for young people.  The National Population Policy was also adopting measures to address issues of sexual and reproductive health, and was increasing access to health services, especially for women.  However, despite UNFPA’s assistance, access to information about condom use, especially in rural areas — home to 77 per cent of the country’s population — still required improvement.

Turning to issues of employment, he noted that his country had organized the National Forum for Young People in 2005, which had focused on developing direct dialogue between young people and officials.  The Ministry of Youth and Employment had been created in 2006, charged with the monitoring policies and programmes.  Further, the National Employment Agency had been created to provide training and internships for young graduates seeking work experience in their professional fields.  He underscored that young people were at the centre of development, and that was recognized in President Blaise Compaore’s five-year development plan. 

Keynote Address

GEORGE PATTON, Professor of Adolescent Health Research at the University of Melbourne University, said that if he had asked a policymaker three years ago anywhere within the United Nations system “how many young people die in the world each year?”, the answer would have been a shrug of the shoulders and the answer, “not very many, young people are pretty healthy”.  If the question had been asked, “what proportion of the burden of disease across the lifespan arises during these ages?”, there would have been a similar shrug of the shoulders with a comment along the lines of “this is the healthiest time of life, isn’t it, so not so much”.  He said that thanks to recent studies undertaken in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), it was now possible to put data behind the assessments of young people’s health.

Looking at the forces shaping youth health, he presented tables and charts relating to secular changes in adolescent development, as well as the biology of adolescence.  He pointed to a widening gap between the biological and social role transitions that had happened in many countries, wherein the onset of adolescence had become mismatched with biology.  The lengthening of the period of adolescence was a powerful driver of current patterns and trends in adolescent health, although it was not the only one.

He said that the first changes experienced during puberty were at the emotional level and related to an individual’s response to psycho-social or physical adversity, or stress.  That was followed several years later with reproductive maturity, marked by menarche in girls, which was then followed by a growth spurt.  However, patterns of social affiliation changed as a result of puberty as well.  Those biological shifts resulted in heightened emotional arousal, often perceived by adults to take the form of risk-taking, sensation-seeking, and sometimes “simply making bad decisions”.  Today, young people were also heavily influenced by globalisation, and the use of social media had opened up a social space that did not previously exist.  The effects of advertising and media on young people were greater now than ever before, and the advertising industry knew that youth were the early adopters and the “consumers of tomorrow”.

Research in the past 15 years had shown that brain development did not stop in earlier childhood as had been previously thought, he said.  The brain changes during puberty brought an upsurge of new emotions—anger, anxiety, excitement, sadness—before the development of emotional control, which occurred as late as the late 20s.  The lag between the development of those two systems created a “window of vulnerability”, during which individuals were at a greater risk of self-harm, substance abuse, injury risk, and mental disorders such as depression.  That figured prominently in the burden of disease linked to adolescence and youth.  The leading causes of death for young males in Latin America and Eastern Europe, for example - homicide, suicide, and traffic accidents - were all in some way a result of emotional arousal.  Africa was the only region of the world where mortality rates were higher among young females than young males, reflecting a higher maternal mortality and HIV mortality.

He stressed the need to make young people and their health more visible, and highlighted the growing scope to engage with young people about their health, including the Core Group of the YOURS and Youth for Road Safety.  Social media also offered tremendous opportunities to engage with young people differently, and encourage them to take an active role in improving their own health and the health of others. It was important to prevent adolescents and youth from taking up risk behaviours that affected their present and later-life health.


Responding to delegates’ questions about the multifaceted complexity of challenges that impeded the lives of adolescents and young people, Professor Patton said that his talk addressed how health problems could interfere with a life cycle.  One approach was to reduce the risks that shortened young people’s lifespan, such as imposing gun control in areas where there was a high mortality rate from guns, and information campaigns on drunk driving, where traffic accidents resulted from alcohol use. 

Responding to a delegate’s comment about the expressed lack of hope and energy among adolescents and youth, he stressed that the benefits could not be gained if those positive attributes were not supported.  However, health gains needed support and the unique health risks of each region should be reduced.

Asked about lower fertility rates in certain regions, he noted that that was an emerging issue, which concerned a change in the “shape of adolescence”, with men and women deferring marriage to later ages when their biological potential was reduced.  “We don’t want teenage mothers,” he said, reiterating how that limited the actualizing of a girl’s potential in the world.  However, delaying motherhood also presented challenges, resulting in low birth rates.  He admitted he was just not sure where the “sweet spot” was.

The problems of adolescents today would also be manifesting in health problems later in life, he said in response to questions about long-term health policy development.  There was an “intimate link” between health habits now in young people and illness later, such as diabetes and heart disease.  Advocacy and political activity on health and the need to understand health on a national political level were crucial.  Although not all data was “fully realized”, there was evidence-based data in certain areas, notably on placing high taxation on cigarettes and alcohol, which decreased adolescent and youth usage.

Addressing his remarks to the “demographic dividend”, he stated that there were many pillars in development.  However, health issues like infectious disease or injury were associated with enormous disability, and those profoundly affected national development.  The issue was not just about causes of death in young people, but also about their disability.

LUIS ALFONSO DE ALBA, speaking on behalf of Economic and Social Council, said that the goals for sustainable development would be handled in a cross-cutting way, along with the goals of 2015 to promote development, combat poverty, and other aspirations.  There would be a set of post-2015 goals that would be the objective of the universal purpose, and were applicable and valid for all countries, be they developed or developing, least- or middle-income countries.  Those goals should be accepted and received by consensus within the Organization, particularly within the General Assembly in 2013.

He emphasized the importance of self-criticism within the Economic and Social Council, and noted that it had “lost relevance”, and had not made as much progress as in some United Nations bodies.  In some cases, texts were not achieved, and those that had been achieved were “very modest”.  The United Nations was, thus, feeling the repercussions of the lack of “space” for the Economic and Social Council, as well as a similar lack for the General Assembly.  The Economic and Social Council needed to enter into a process of not just renewal, but a review of everything to see “what was not working” before building or suggesting changes.  It would be necessary to focus on the central mandate of the Council, which was coordination within the United Nations system, including among its specialized agencies.

The Council could contribute to a more balanced and relevant view of the interests of all countries, particularly developing ones.  A series of consultations of different types were set to take place, and greater interaction with the Chairmen of the subsidiary bodies would help identify an agenda to allow for suggestions in the evaluation of the Council, along with open dialogue among the agencies, regional organizations and other actors to seek more comprehensive action.

JORGE BRAVO SANCHEZ, Chief, Population and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with an accompanying slide presentation, presented information on broad global and regional trends of population and employment on working-age population, with specific information on youth.  Defining “working age” between 15 and 64, he noted that this population was growing “vigorously” over the last three decades.  In the age range of 50 to 65-year-old workers, that group was growing more than twice as fast, while the young segment, aged 15 to 24 was stable and growing slowly.  That showed that the work forces were experiencing persistent aging, and by the year 2024, older working-aged persons would outnumber the young.

Continuing, he said that there were concerns about those trends, among them, wide regional disparities, and youth being disproportionately affected by the recent global recession and slow recovery of the world economy.  Another concern was that youth were disproportionately represented among the working poor, especially in Africa.  Other implications of those trends included the potential for political instability, notably when “youth bulges” encountered limited job opportunities.  Not only would the potential of a demographic dividend become limited, the risk of political violence would increase.  Concluding, he noted that continued fertility declines in many developing countries would ease pressures on the labour market in the coming decades.  That, he stated, would provide an extraordinary opportunity to invest in young people.

LARBI DJACTA (Algeria) said that, since 1962, education had been given the highest priority with a focus on eradicating illiteracy through comprehensive and free education.  Education, with gender equality, was a guaranteed right and mandatory up to the age of 16.  That policy had “borne fruit” with school enrolment between the ages of 6 to 16 stood at over 95 per cent in 2010, which was an increase from 90 per cent in 2000.  School attendance rates were 43 per cent in 1966.  In 2010, it was over 96 per cent.  Those significant indicators put Algeria on the same level of some developed countries.  He also noted the considerable improvement in higher education, with gender parity in university and vocational training settings, with 93 girls to 100 boys in high education settings.

Reproductive health also showed success through initiatives and programmes, he said.  In working to improve access to health and strengthen family planning, the Government had showed great success.  In the area of maternal health, the death rate fell significantly, with 230 deaths for every 100,000 births in 1986, falling to 86.2 in 2008.  Health coverage also showed significant improvement, with sharp increases in prenatal consultations rising from 58 per cent in 1992 to 90.2 per cent in 2006.  The increased space between births, and available contraception, free in the public sector and reimbursable in the private sector, also contributed to improved reproductive health.  Fertility rates dropped, as well, in females between the ages of 15 and 19, with a decrease from 21 births in 1992 to 4 births in 2006.

Turning to the issue of employment, he said that his country’s massive investment in education was an important part of uprooting unemployment and that was why his Government was redoubling efforts in that area.  Approximately 200,000 new workers were entering the labour market and unemployment dropped from 30 per cent in 2000 to 10 per cent in 2011.  Government programmes promoted micro-enterprise and integrated over 600,000 youths into the market.  To sustain a country like Algeria, it would be necessary to ensure that economic growth and employment became less reliant on its natural resources.  Further, he said in conclusion, the promotion and protection of youth and women would be representing the future.

SLAMET RIYADI YUWONO (Indonesia) said his country was focusing on its adolescents and youth, expending energy and resources to secure the interests of that segment of the national population.  Its objectives were to equip those groups with marketable skills, so their productivity would improve and allow them a greater role in the development process.  For young women and adolescent girls, the focus would also be on their sexual and reproductive health needs.  Indonesia was projecting to extend the basic compulsory education programme to 12 years to equip adolescents and youth with relevant knowledge and skills to boost their productivity.  An emphasis was being placed on technical high schools and training centres to attract those young people who did not intend to pursue tertiary education.

More and more of Indonesia’s young people were involved in the creation of information technology products as a result of training they received, and such a national strategy served to “turn what could have been a social liability into a development asset”, he said.  The greater number of adolescents and youth were expected to become a demographic bonus.  Probably the biggest benefit to Indonesia in doing this was narrowed income gaps within and between the various communities of the country.  It also allowed Indonesia to secure the welfare and prosperity of all areas.

MIRIAM COHEN-NAVOT, Director of Engelberg Centre for Children and Youth of Israel, said her country had developed a multi-pronged strategy to face the challenge of integrating its young adult population into the labour market, and that strategy started with education.  Israel had invested significantly in increasing school retention by offering financial incentives to schools and providing extra instruction and support for low achievers, and for those with behavioural problems.  Major progress had been made, such that today, approximately 90 per cent of the country’s youth completed high school.  Beyond basic secondary education, about half of the 25 year olds in Israel had also pursued higher education in universities, or other post-secondary tracks.  However, many young people that belonged to more disadvantaged social groups continued to face significant barriers, including failure to meet university entry requirements, she pointed out.

To meet that challenge, the Government had expanded an initiative that provided one- or two-year second-chance preparatory courses.  Also, although there was a wide range of opportunities and services available throughout the country, young people often lacked the information or needed special assistance to access them.  In response to that, the Israeli Government, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other organizations were partnering to develop a national network of Youth Adult Centres.  Additionally, Israel recognized that investments in science, technology and innovation education were among the most critical sources of economic transformation in many countries around the world.  Throughout Israel, a number of large education networks had been established to provide educational programmes that fostered and encouraged young students to develop their abilities and careers in high-tech and advanced scientific studies.

IRINA VELICHKO (Belarus) said that her country was carrying out a program for job promotion, taking into consideration the economic and social needs of the country.  The State currently guaranteed young people a first job, as one of the key “traits” for creating favourable conditions for implementing and realizing the creative potential of young people.  A dominant trend was the aspiration for young people to be able to organize their own affairs, particularly through the means of entrepreneurship.  Young people were, thus, given an opportunity to get involved in social production and realize their own personal fulfilment.

In dealing with the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, she said that the deadline was fast approaching and it was now clear that many targets would not be met in time.  Further, it would be necessary to ensure a smooth transition between the continuing and remaining Millennium Development Goals, and the sustainable development goals.  Those situations could be enhanced through the participation of youth, including in the context of creating favourable conditions in the field of demography.  The Commission on Population and Development should have the Economic and Social Council be actively involved in development, and the sustainable development goals.

VITALIY KOLBANOV (Russian Federation) said that, in addressing employment problems, his Government was first supporting vulnerable populations, including women and youth.  Youth employment remained an acute problem.  Investment policy was supplemented by integrating strategies with job creation.  Approximately 70 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds were being educated and 7 million young people were involved in the working economy, with 85 per cent of the population economically active. 

The Government was preparing special programmes that helped with attaining employment.  That not only involved seeking jobs, but also included preparation for professional and vocational education.  Temporary apprentices were available to young people between the ages of 14 to 18, which offered them useful activities, and helped them learn about the work place and develop work skills.  There was another program for 16 to 18 year olds which gave them temporary employment.  The national employment service in the recent economic crisis had a program assisting graduates with additional training programs.  Those young specialists and their mentors were also paid. 

The diversity of his country’s economy was also of note, with training programmes being developed for the growing technological needs.  There were over 500 designations that were in demand by employers.  Further, there was an increasing importance of vocational areas.  Currently, 25 per cent of unemployed people were now in vocational training, and after such training over 94 per cent found jobs.  Entrepreneurial support and training was available and, to date, over 200,000 people had developed their own businesses.  Young mothers were also being trained as well so they could later return to the labour market.  In December of this year there would be a high-level conference on the challenges and solutions in the area of labour.

SÉRGIO RODRIGUES DOS SANTOS (Brazil) said that with the country’s fertility rates falling below the replacement level, Brazil was putting in place national programmes that ensured it benefitted from the so-called “demographic dividend”.  It believed that the successful inclusion of young people in its labour market was, thus, crucial for the sustainability of the current period of social and economic development.  Despite a general improvement in the conditions of young people in the labour market in the last decade, that segment of the population was still among those that were likely to experience unemployment and informal employment.  Countrywide, 55 per cent of those working in informal jobs and 39 per cent of self-employed workers were adolescents and young people between 16 and 24 years of age, he said.  And, although young women attained higher levels of education than young men, they tended to face more difficulties to find better quality jobs.

The challenge was not only to ensure decent jobs for women, but also to preserve and expand their access to labour rights and social security coverage, including maternity leave.  Decent work was also seen as an essential element for the promotion of productive capacity and the viability of sustainable business.  The national decent work agenda for youth, derived from the national plan, aimed at providing more and better education, as well as reconciling education, work and family lives.  Further, the Government was convinced that science and academic research were central elements to promoting sustainable growth and was determined to increase the number of Doctors of Philosophy in the country.  The Brazilian Government was also striving to promote initiatives that focused on helping workers in the informal sector to formalize their businesses, as well as to increase access to credit and microcredit, enabling enterprises to grow and create more job opportunities.

YVONNE BOSSO, General Director of Capacity-Building in C ôte d’Ivoire, associating her statement with that made on behalf of the African Group, said that the population of young people was very high in her country.  From 1987, her country had adopted a population policy, which was followed by a number of additional policies dealing with health, women, and the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  However, the 1999 coup d'état and numerous subsequent crises had disturbed and compromised the implementation of those programmes, and there had been a deterioration of indicators as a result.

The Ivorian president had, since 2011, established an emergency presidential program to address the pressing needs of the population to provide free schooling, free health care, and the rehabilitation of schools, health centres, roads and other infrastructure.  Unfortunately, the country had limited resources and immense needs.  Still, her delegation had wanted to be present at the current session to reaffirm its support of efforts for reconstruction and development.

MARTIN BULÁNEK, speaking on behalf of the delegation the European Union, declared that the lack of employment growth was the weakest link of the economic recovery, noting that worldwide, unemployment rates were very high among young people, and women continued to suffer discrimination in terms of the jobs available to them, their remuneration, benefits and working conditions, and access to decision-making positions.  Young people often had limited access to quality education, productive employment and decent work and lacked access to information, commodities and services to make informed choices related to their sexual and reproductive health.  Investments in education were, therefore, essential for them to achieve their full potential and contribute to sustainable development.

Mr. Bulánek reaffirmed the European Union’s determination to give priority attention to addressing the challenges that hindered young people’s development, of both girls and boys, by investing further in the development of human capital.  That included, in particular, investments in education and health, including sexual and reproductive health, in order to achieve poverty eradication, as well as realize human rights and gender equality.  He said the “steady rise” in women’s educational levels and participation in the labour market within the Union was one of the great achievements in the field of gender equality.  However, those positive changes had not been sufficiently balanced by family-friendly policies that would make it easier for women and men to have children and combine that with their employment and career.  In that regard, the Union underlined the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into all development efforts, the full participation of women, including young women, in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life, as equal partners, and their access to all resources needed for the full exercise of all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

PATRIK ANDERSSON, Chief of the Social Integration Section at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), stressed the need to take into account such demographic changes occurring in the Asia-Pacific region as the rapid transition from high fertility rates to generally lower rates.  That meant that the number of young people in the region had started to fall.  Over the next 20 years, the population share of people 60 years and older would almost double, which would have both positive and negative implications for society.

He said that while fewer children meant an opportunity for countries to increase enrolment rates and quality education, which, in turn, would enhance economic growth, it also had a host of potential negative impacts on society, such as labour shortages, skill gaps and, inevitably, stunted economic growth.  In that regard, strengthening inter-generational contracts was a crucial element to better cater to the poor and other vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities and their families, as well as migrants and young and elderly people.

Dialogue on National Experience

SAIKOU J.K. TRAWALLY (Gambia) said demographic indicators, such as HIV infection among the younger population, as well as teenage pregnancy, “baby dumping” and maternal deaths, especially among the youths, were believed to have declined over the years, but that was difficult to prove, owing to a lack of up-to-date and reliable data.

He said more than 45 per cent of the nation’s population was below the age of 15, and 22 per cent was between 15 and 24.  That youthful age structure meant a high potential for rapid population growth in the future, as well as a high dependency burden, which could lead to social disorder.  “In the Gambian context, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and unemployment were worthy of mention as they inhibit the realization of the full potential of young people.”

ASHRAF KHODJAEV ( Uzbekistan) described how non-governmental organizations and movements were helping to address the issues related to adolescents and youth in the most populous country in Central Asia.  For instance, the Fund Forum, the largest youth public organization in Central Asia, had provided all-around support for the nation’s youth through a series of far-reaching projects in culture, arts, science, education and sport, as well as social initiatives and charitable activities.  The Fund Forum conducted major projects, including a talented youth contest, titled “Kelajak ovozi” (Voice of the future); Young Entrepreneurs School for selected participants, with more than $60,000 provided in credits for the winners; sports grants; youth employment centre; and an educational grants programme.

Statements by Regional Commissions, Specialized Agencies, Other Entities

IRINA BOKOVA, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said that with a heterogeneous population of 1.8 billion, adolescents and youth still had a deep gender divide.  For example, an estimated 35 million girls were missing out on primary education and 37 million were missing at the lower secondary levels.  Those discrepancies impacted the development of societies as a whole.  Further, youth faced challenges, including the lack of job opportunities, inadequate education, vulnerable working conditions, risks to ill health and insufficient Government investment.  Education was paramount to reducing poverty and gender inequality, and she noted the progress towards the “education for all” goal in some of the world’s poorest countries over the last decade, with an additional 52 million children enrolled in primary school from 1999 to 2008.

However, she said, a large gap remained between the goals set in 2000 and the advances made.  In 2008, 67 million children were out of school, with 10 million in sub-Saharan Africa dropping out of primary school every year.  Some 17 per cent of the world’s adults lacked basic literacy skills, and of those, nearly two thirds were women.  “Education is a force for equity and equality,” she said.  A woman’s level of education impacted not only her economic and social position, but also her children’s nutrition, health and schooling.  The impact was community-wide.  Education was also crucial for combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.  Evidence showed that women with secondary education were more likely to know how to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, which contributed to approximately 260,000 fatalities in 2009.  In Malawi, for example, 60 per cent of mothers with secondary education or higher were aware that drugs could reduce transmission rates, while only 27 per cent of uneducated women knew that.  “Education saves lives,” she said, calling on Governments to protect education budgets.

BERTIL LINDBLAD, Director, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said young people aged 15 to 24 were leading the HIV prevention revolution by taking action to protect themselves from infection.  As a result, HIV prevalence among young people had declined in 21 out of 24 countries, with national prevalence 1 per cent or higher, and new HIV infections among young people were falling worldwide, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.  Those declines were attributed to a delay of sexual debut, reduction in the number of partners, and increased condom use by young people.  In order to protect young people from HIV infection, it was necessary to reach them more effectively with programmes that were designed to meet their unique and varied needs.

MARGARET CHAN, Director General, World Health Organization (WHO), said there were sound public health, economic and human rights reasons for investing in the health and development of adolescents.  Further, there was a pressing need to address their sexual and reproductive health.  The number of girls who were married as children, who became mothers at an early age, and who died because of unsafe abortions or during childbirth was unacceptably high.  The international community had a collective responsibility to drive those numbers down, and the Secretary-General’s initiative on Women and Children’s Health provided all with a renewed urgency and a sharpened sense of focus to accomplish that goal.

KIKELOMO TAIWO, Advocates for Youth, said it was time that “our Governments recognize young people’s right to evidence- and rights-based comprehensive sexuality education, both in and out of school.  Effective sexuality education must go beyond biology anatomy.  It must include information about sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, and condoms and other contraceptive services and supplies.  It must also include the promotion of gender equality, healthy relationships, and human rights, as well as the prevention of gender-based violence and discrimination.

The Associate Director of Family Care International, AMY BOLDOSSER, said there was a great deal left to do in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the Cairo Programme of Action.  To succeed, young people around the world, who were disproportionately affected by policies that failed to realize their sexual and reproductive rights, not only needed access to information and youth-friendly services, but also must be involved in creating the policies and programmes that affected them, and in shaping the larger development agenda.

CECILIA ESPINOSA, Ipas, told the story of a young girl in Peru who was raped, got pregnant and was denied an abortion, although abortion was legal in the country.  After a spontaneous abortion, she did not receive medical help and currently did not attend school because of her condition.  Recalling the Cairo Programme, Ms. Espinosa urged Governments to uphold the right to make sexual and reproductive rights services available to girls and women, both inside and outside the school system, as well as in health service centres.  Further, parents should be educated in those matters to be able to support their children and advocate for themselves, as well.  Further, barriers to care must be eliminated, and she called on Governments to make available youth-friendly services that respected young people’s privacy and autonomy.  She reminded the Commission that it was important to listen to youth representatives so that their needs could be met.

International Planned Parenthood Federation Youth Interest Group Chair ZOE STEWART said that the international community had taken great strides towards fulfilling the rights of young people across the world since the Cairo agenda, in terms of partnerships, financial investments and understanding young people’s rights, health and needs.  Young people were rights-holders and they should be recognized as such.  It was high time that individuals were equipped with the information, education and services needed to make informed decisions about their sexual lives, health and well-being.  Primary and secondary schools offered a crucial opportunity for reaching young people with accurate information and life skills relating to sex, health and relationships, while challenging harmful traditional, gender and other norms.

KURNIA NIJIASTVI, Asian-Pacific Resources and Research Centre for Women, said the organization had invested in the development of a young people's advocacy partnership project on sexual and reproductive health rights.  Some initial results included the successful mobilization of local youth to mainstream young people's sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as the creation of the first ethnic group leadership network for young people.

MARISOL RODRIGUEZ, Mision Mujer, proposed recommendations for enhancing public policies and investment in favour of the development of adolescents by introducing positive images, helping develop a life plan, supporting participation and engagement, and promoting “freedom with responsibility”.  Also necessary was to prioritize the creation and operation of psychological risk-prevention programmes for adolescents based on life skills, and to promote policies that supported family and school as necessary forums for adolescents’ protection and development.

KOEN BÖHM, Rutgers WPF and CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, described how sexual and reproductive education helped him make better choices in life, while stressing the need to recognize that youth and adolescents were sexually active.  "I remember that in high school, I got taught how to put on a condom, got information on STDs, and how to say no to peer pressure," he said, calling on all Member States to make sure that young people received evidence- and rights-based comprehensive sexuality education, both in and out of school, and that social barriers that restricted their access were lifted.

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