Importance of Tackling Youth Unemployment Emphasized as Commission for Social Development Holds Panel Discussion before Concluding Poverty Discussion

6 February 2012

Importance of Tackling Youth Unemployment Emphasized as Commission for Social Development Holds Panel Discussion before Concluding Poverty Discussion

6 February 2012
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Fiftieth Session

8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)

Importance of Tackling Youth Unemployment Emphasized as Commission for Social

Development Holds Panel Discussion before Concluding Poverty Discussion


Speakers in the Commission for Social Development stressed today the importance of tackling youth unemployment, which was one of the main drivers of mass protests around the world, affecting both developed and developing countries.

While youth had previously been disproportionately affected by unemployment, the current crises and trends had exacerbated the severity of the problem, they said.  More than 75 million young people had been unemployed at the end of 2010, with many at risk of various social problems, said Commission Vice-Chair Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Elbahi (Sudan) as he introduced a panel discussion on the subject this morning.

Labour experts on the panel said that while adult unemployment had worsened due to the global economic and financial crises, as well as demographic factors, youth unemployment had grown at an even more rapid rate.  They surveyed responses to the situation in both the European Union and South America — Uruguay in particular — which were both facing a severe problem and undertaking proactive attempts to find solutions.

Explaining the different nature of the problem in different economic segments of society, a representative of the World Alliance of YMCAs said that in any society, the stage of life between 15 and 30 was a critical time of transition, but those with long-term occupational objectives had much greater possibilities than vulnerable groups who had to deal with short-term survival and had far less opportunity for education and vocational training.

There were also high rates of “discouraged” young people, who had given up looking for work and were not in school, on panellist said.  Often, the education received by those with the opportunity for schooling did not match the needs of the labour market or their overeducation made them loathe to take unskilled jobs, while poorer youth, particularly women, were often employed in low-paying, insecure work in the informal sector.

Speakers in the morning’s discussion — many of them young representatives of Member States or organizations — stressed the importance of coordinating professional training with the needs of the labour market.  Better data, green employment and sustainable development, the integration of growth and employment, social guarantees, international solidarity and the engagement of all sectors, the empowerment of young people and a greater focus on entrepreneurship were all important components of policy development.

As the Commission concluded its general debate in the afternoon, speakers stressed that facing the challenge of youth unemployment was a key element of poverty eradication.  They also described programmes for providing social protection for vulnerable groups and financing to spark business activity among the poorer populations of their respective countries.

The representative of Trinidad and Tobago presented his country’s approach to youth problems, including unemployment, as a multifaceted one, saying that its national youth policy reflected a dynamic social development process led by the Government and civil society.  It encompassed education, health, gender equality and leadership development, as well as measures to counter illicit drugs and youth crime at the same time as it tackled unemployment.

“The youths in Zambia are bubbling with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, coupled with high expectations and are eager to contribute to economic development,” said that country’s representative.  “Getting the youths to work is a quick and sure way of fighting poverty.”  Accordingly, the Government was establishing additional universities and had allocated funds meant to kick-start small and medium enterprises.

The Permanent Observer of the International Organization for Migration noted the importance of circular migration in training youths and bringing expertise back to developing countries, stressing that the importance of minimizing negative effects such as brain drain.  The Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization emphasized the need to direct youth employment programmes at rural youth as well as those who had migrated to the cities.

Also speaking during the general debate were representatives of Nepal, Yemen, Georgia, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic and Iraq.

Representatives of the Holy See and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also spoke, as did those of the World Food Programme, the International Committee on Arab-Israeli Reconciliation, Fraternité Notre Dame, Baltic Sea Forum, Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, International Federation for Family Development, World Youth Alliance, Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries, International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Passionists International, International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Sustain Us.

The Commission will reconvene in plenary at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 February, to take up programme questions and other matters.


The Commission for Social Development met this morning for a panel discussion on emerging issues entitled “Youth: poverty and unemployment”.  In the afternoon, it was expected to conclude its general discussion on the priority theme “poverty eradication”.

Panel Discussion

Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Elbahi (Sudan), Commission Vice-Chair, moderated the panel discussion, which featured panellists László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission; Gianni Rosas, Programme Coordinator, Youth Employment Programme, International Labour Organization (ILO); and Inés van de Kerchove Baraibar, Coordinator, Uruguay Works programme and representative, World Alliance of YMCAs.

Mr. ELBAHI ( Sudan) opened the discussion by noting that while youth had previously been disproportionately affected by unemployment, the current crises and trends had exacerbated the severity of the problem.  More than 75 million young people had been unemployed at the end of 2010, with many at risk for a variety of social problems, he said, stressing that urgent attention was required.  Young women were most likely to be unemployed or underemployed in poor conditions, and the developing world was most affected, with high rates of poverty and insufficient social protection.  The challenge was not only to increase the number of jobs available, but also their quality, he said, pointing out that youth often had to work at minimal jobs to support their families, so they did not receive the education needed to advance.

Youth-driven movements in many countries must help put youth unemployment at the top of the United Nations agenda, he continued.  Describing the World Programme of Action on Youth as the underpinning of international action, prioritizing employment, he said the related World Youth report, to be launched today, was significant as it had been produced through extensive consultation with young people.  However, youth employment strategies had not produced adequate results so far and austerity measures could worsen the scenario, he cautioned, adding that it was particularly critical to reach out to young discouraged workers, through partnerships with young people and youth organizations.

Mr. ANDOR said unemployment was expected to remain at 10 per cent in the European Union, marked by persisting financial crises and a jobless recovery.  Youth unemployment was at around 20 per cent on average, with peaks of 40 per cent in some countries, which raised the spectre of a “lost generation” and huge social costs.  The European 2020 strategy developed in response advocated an integrated approach to growth and employment, aiming to raise employment and educational levels, he said.  The low-carbon economy and other job-rich sectors must be prioritized, he emphasized, adding that worker mobility, marginalized group and youth in general must be placed at the centre of policies.  Describing components of the 2020 strategy, he said the European Commission supported member States by providing financing, advice, standards for training and other measures.

Unfortunately, severe budget constraints limited the capabilities of many European States, he said, encouraging dialogue between members to coordinate measures in response.  The partnership between the European Commission and ILO was important in that context.  The Commission was also working to put youth employment at the centre of the G-20’s work, he said, welcoming the Group’s reaffirmation that employment, particularly youth employment, and poverty reduction should be at the centre of economic strategy.  The European Commission was keen to contribute its experience to all international forums in the effort to tackle youth unemployment.

Mr. ROSAS presented data showing the extent of youth unemployment, around the world as well as regionally, from data published in the ILO October 2011 Global Employment Trends for Youth report and the 2012 Global Employment Trends report released two weeks ago.  There was also an increase in adult unemployment, but young people were three times as likely to be unemployed as adults worldwide.  Crises such as those in Greece and Spain had doubled youth unemployment in some countries, and there were also high rates of “discouraged” young people, who had given up looking for work and were not in school.  For those with jobs, their employment was more likely to be temporary, affording them little or no protection, he said.  One of the results was a rise in “working poverty”.

Growth, labour market regulation as well as education and training were important factors in increasing youth employment, he said, cautioning, however, that the problem was complex and there was often a mismatch between training and education, and the jobs available.  There was a need for an integrated growth and job-creation strategy with broad-based partnership as an important component.  Educational reform should help shape education to conform to labour-market requirements.  Reliable information on the youth labour market should be accrued and made available to ensure that policy development fit the actual situation.

Ms. VAN DE KERCHOVE BARAIBAR said the integration of youth into the economy was becoming increasingly important, both in countries with an ageing population and those with a larger proportion of young people.  In any society, the stage of life between 15 and 30 was a critical time of transition, but those with long-term occupational objectives had much greater possibilities than vulnerable groups who had to deal with short-term survival.  Youth from more favourable circumstances made transitions later in favour of those long-term objectives, while those from vulnerable circumstances moved into adulthood more quickly.

In Uruguay, there was an elevated school dropout rate, possibly due to a perceived mismatch between the education offered and the employment opportunities available, she said.  More information on vulnerable youth was needed to facilitate the formulation of policies to assist them, but it was clear that opportunities were growing in rapidly changing technological sectors that also required entrepreneurial skills.  Outlining support programmes for youth in Uruguay, she described the evolution of a tripartite approach involving young people, the State and private-sector companies, and emphasized that it was critical that all their efforts pay due attention to the youth-to-adult transition period and be directed at the specific situations of different individuals and groups.  Technological access was equally essential, as was the participation of youth in policymaking.

In the discussion that followed, speakers — many of them young representatives of Member States or organizations — affirmed the urgency of tackling youth unemployment, emphasizing the anxieties felt by many young people today and the difficulties posed by austerity measures in the effort to come up with solutions.  Spain’s representative noted that the unemployment crisis was tied to many others in her country, such as the housing crisis.  A representative of the International Eurasia Press Fund noted the role of conflict and displacement in exacerbating unemployment.

Speakers said that professional training — coordinated with the needs of the labour market — as well as better data on the labour market, green employment and sustainable development, integration of growth and employment, social guarantees, international solidarity and the engagement of all sectors, the empowerment of young people and a greater focus on entrepreneurship were important components of policy development.  Japan’s representative suggested that the potential role that volunteerism could play in integrating young people into the labour market should be considered, while his counterpart from the Republic of Korea suggested that much greater use could be made of online and social media in finding solutions to both individual situations and those of youth in general.

The representatives of Belgium and the Russian Federation also spoke, as did those of the International Movement for Aid to the Fourth World and the World Youth Alliance.


GYAN CHANDRA ACHARYA (Nepal), associating himself with the statement issued on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said hunger and poverty were more acute in least developed counties because of the proportion of poor people in their total population.  Considering the structural constraints, an enhanced and sustained level of international support was not a choice, but a compulsion for countries such as Nepal.  Moreover, the dehumanizing conditions of hunger and poverty, coupled with the crisis of youth unemployment, severely undermined human and social development.  Inclusive and sustained growth was, first and foremost, a priority for Nepal, he said, adding that it must be employment-generated in order to have a lasting impact.

While youth unemployment was a great threat to stability, young people offered a “great opportunity”, he continued.  Nepal’s efforts at poverty eradication were guided by a rights-based approach to development.  Its three-year plan focused on promoting employment and reducing poverty.  Through that plan, Government employment opportunities, skills-development training for employment promotion and access to microcredit for self-employment had given priority attention to marginalized segments of society, and thanks to such actions, Nepal had made tangible progress in terms of reducing poverty.

TAHA HUSSEIN DAIFALLAH AL-AWADHI(Yemen), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said his country had faced internal and external challenges, including high levels of poverty, since the 1990s.  It had adopted policies and measures aimed at limiting the scope of the problem, implementing a social security network in 1995, adopting measures to finance small projects for the poor and improving public assistance programmes.  “Youth is at the root of development in our country,” he declared, adding that Yemen attached special importance to the challenge of reducing unemployment and poverty among young people.  Among other activities, it had passed a number of laws relating to youth and had created the Ministry of Youth and Sports, which consolidated all Government youth activities.

NELI SHIOLASHVILI (Georgia), associating herself with the European Union, said that increased employment and the streamlining of social programmes were current priorities for her country.  The needs of beneficiaries remained central, with extensive assistance to those in poverty and those displaced by the conflict of 2008.  Elderly people made up a large proportion of recipients, she said, pledging that her Government was committed to working with regional and international partners towards eradicating poverty.

RAZA BASHIR TARAR (Pakistan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the floods of 2010, combined with multiple world crises, had had a negative effect on his country’s socio-economic indicators.  However, the Millennium Development Goals remained a centrepiece of Government efforts, with social protection programmes in place targeting vulnerable populations, including women and youth.  Microfinance, social mobilization of funds, training and family support were important components of poverty-eradication programmes.  He added that international cooperation remained of cardinal importance, in his own country and throughout the world.

JUANA SANDOVAL (Nicaragua), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said his country was implementing its National Human Development Plan, which placed the person at the centre of all efforts.  Results had been tangible, as the country had reduced extreme poverty from 17.5 per cent of the population in 2005 to just 9 per cent in 2011.  Malnutrition had been reduced by 30 per cent while maternal health had been improved and malaria rates had dropped.  The Government had also restored the right to free health care and free education for all citizens.  Additionally, a number of national income-redistribution programmes had benefitted Nicaraguan families, she said, stressing that promoting decent work was one of the most effective strategies for poverty eradication.  “We must leave rhetoric behind” and begin to take action, by creating opportunities for women, indigenous people and youth in particular.

RODNEY CHARLES (Trinidad and Tobago) said poverty eradication and social justice were an integral component of his country’s sustainable development agenda and had led to the creation of assistance and grant programmes to help spur economic activity and provide a safety net for those in need, particularly vulnerable groups.  Education, health care and decent work for all were among the priorities.  The national youth policy reflected a dynamic social development process between the Government and civil society, encompassing education, health, gender equality and leadership development, as well as measures to counter illicit drugs, youth crime and unemployment.  A people-centred approach to development had led to an increase in the number of cooperatives that encouraged entrepreneurship among their members, he said, stressing the need for an integrated approach to poverty eradication, particularly in creating new opportunities to fight poverty through the green economy.  As a so-called middle-income country, technical assistance and capacity-building from international agencies was of particular importance in Trinidad and Tobago, he affirmed.

BRAHIMA KIPEYA KONE, Deputy Chief of Staff, Ministry of State for Labour, Social Affairs and Solidarity of C ôte d’Ivoire, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said the poverty rate in his country had increased, and the Government was developing a response involving inclusive mechanisms linked to employment and training, health care, protection of the elderly and support to internally displaced persons, refugees and young people involved with armed groups.  However, the current social security system covered only 10 per cent of the population, and access to private insurance remained limited.  Since the 2010 political crisis, a new programme of free access to health services had been launched and the Government sought to universalize it by the end of 2012.  It was also developing the national social protection strategy as part of a “holistic, cross-cutting approach”, he said, noting that it entailed a minimum social protection threshold, and that specific structures were being implemented to support youth employment.  A national employment strategy was also being developed, he added.

LUZ ANDÚJAR ( Dominican Republic), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said poverty had recently decreased in her country, and the Government had broadened its social protection system, including its support for the elderly.  It had also improved the social security system to protect the poorest citizens.  Since employment was one of the most important areas in the fight against poverty, the Government was working to ensure that there were “more opportunities than obstacles”, and more entrepreneurs than those who struggled to find decent work.

Ms. YAHIA (Iraq), endorsing the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that consolidating stability and providing security to enable economic growth was the primary task in her country’s efforts to reduce poverty.  At the same time, it had a national strategy aimed at raising incomes, increasing access to health services and encouraging development in rural areas.  Special programmes targeted vulnerable groups and their need for social protection, providing assistance to the elderly and persons with disabilities, the unemployed and other vulnerable groups.  The promotion of stable families was a priority, she said, adding that the Government had established a regime to end domestic violence and empower women.

SHEILA MWEEMBA ( Zambia), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said her country’s Government had put a myriad strategies in play to lighten the burden on the poor.  “The youths in Zambia are bubbling with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, coupled with high expectations and are eager to contribute to the economic development of the country,” she said.  “Getting the youths to work is a quick and sure way of fighting poverty.”  Accordingly, the Government was establishing additional universities and had allocated funds meant to kick-start small and medium enterprises.  Persons with disabilities and the elderly represented large portions of the vulnerable populations, she said, noting that the Government was working to include both in development, but needed more partners both from the private sector and non-governmental organizations.  Inequality was a major problem throughout the world, and her Government supported a number of cash-transfer schemes and strategies to enhance food security, she said, reaffirming the Government’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

FRANCIS ASSISI CHULLIKATT, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said the growing inequality between and within countries was a reminder that economic development must not be guided by market forces alone, but must be rooted in a moral understanding of the purpose of development and the economy.  A renewed commitment to economic systems guided by ethical values — placing human-centred development at its centre — was needed.  In addition, efforts to address poverty must not address only material poverty, but also the moral and spiritual poverty within communities, he said.  Policymakers must not focus only on financial development, but also work to promote integral human development that sought to develop all aspects of a person.  One of the most effective and vital means of such development was providing greater support to the family, he said, stressing that the family was the primary source of economic, educational, emotional and social development.  Such initiatives continued to be under-researched and under-implemented, he added.

BERTRAND DE LOOZ KARAGEORGIADES, Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said the struggle against poverty and exclusion was at the heart of his organization’s activities.  With more than 13,000 members and thousands of volunteers, it was active in more than 120 countries, and recognized the crucial role of education in eradicating poverty.  He cited several examples of the Order’s interventions in the area of youth and education, including in northern Thailand and Bolivia; and in the protection of the poor and marginalized, including in India’s Dalit community.  Having cared for the poor and sick for more than 900 years, the Order was “crucially aware” of the needs of its fellow man, he stressed.

MICHELLE KLEIN SOLOMON, Permanent Observer of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), stressed the important links between migration and poverty eradication, saying that many families used temporary and circular migration as a fluid household strategy to lift themselves out of poverty, particularly through remittances that represented a lifeline for many communities.  While migration was not a substitution for job creation, training and experience abroad could be of great help to the local population if migration was circular, she said, adding that managing migration could minimize negative effects such as brain drain.  In that context, it was critical to extend human rights and social protection to migrants, she emphasized, recalling the Libyan situation, which had demonstrated how vulnerable economic migrants were to conflict and other world crises.  IOM was pioneering programmes to ensure the mainstreaming of migration into the national development plans of several countries and hoped to extend that experience so as to be able to assist even more States in the future.

Ms. MANENTE, World Food Programme, welcomed acknowledgement of the importance of social safety nets and of the links between hunger, food security and poverty eradication in the draft resolution before the Commission.  Safety-net systems established before crises could reduce the need for emergency responses, and safety-net transfers played an important role in reaching the poorest and most vulnerable populations.  Safety nets were a key ingredient in forging social contracts between States and citizens, and their absence was often a cause of political instability, she noted.  Evidence suggested that they were not residual interventions, but productive investments that could enhance and complement economic growth, contributing to pathways for sustainable development.  WFP stood ready to support Member States in developing safety nets as a key tool for eradicating poverty.

LILA H. RATSIFANDRIHAMANANA, Director, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office at the United Nations, said that demographic trends, the lack of decent work and socially conditioned inequalities between men and women should be taken into account when shaping agriculture, food security and rural development programmes.  Rural women faced serious gaps in access to both resources and opportunities, including education, health and employment.  Rural labour markets were also characterized by a number of problems, such as high levels of self-employment, informality, casual work arrangements, labour force fragmentation, limited social protection and other challenges.  FAO was helping countries achieve gender-equitable rural employment and decent work, she said, adding that it was also promoting cash transfers and cash-for-work programmes that could help stimulate local production and local economies, while providing emergency assistance in countries suffering protracted food crises.  Additionally, the inclusion of youth in development efforts was crucial, she stressed, noting that support for rural youth and young farmers had been part of FAO’s work for the last four decades.

The representative of the International Committee for Arab-Israeli Reconciliation, said poverty was a function of people’s diminished capability to live the kinds of lives to which they aspired, and the poor must be inspired to eradicate it.  Eradication efforts also required a multidimensional approach.  While the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals had been a “bold step” on the international community’s part, some people would remain poor, while others would choose to make the world richer by giving up wealth and becoming poor themselves.

The representative of Fraternit é Notre Dame, a Catholic missionary group, warned of growing cycles of poverty as people lost their traditional livelihoods and became dependent on the global economy or aid.  Everybody had the duty to fight poverty, she emphasized, describing her organization’s efforts in Haiti and calling on people of goodwill to rise and fight it, each according to his or her abilities.

The representative of the Baltic Sea Forum, a civil society group in North-East Europe, stressed the lack of access to secondary school for many poor people around the world.  The pace and scale of globalization showed that basic education was no longer enough, and that professional education was needed.  The latter was not only about skills training, it also meant developing social competence in a global context and should encompass knowledge of sustainability, she said.

The representative of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants emphasized the importance of training for livelihoods, restorative justice to restore harmony in a community, the empowerment of marginalized communities and the evaluation of the effect of macroeconomic policy on social development.

The representative of the International Federation for Family Development said that until 2006, there had been a positive correlation between the employment of youth and seniors.  However, that relationship had broken down, and today, the employment of young people had collapsed, while that of seniors had increased.  Among the many challenges faced by young people were the higher risk of losing their jobs (the “first in, first out” phenomenon), as well as well as “wage scarring” (the effect of earning less throughout one’s life following a period of unemployment).  Youth unemployment could trigger a vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion, contributing to forced immigration, reduced self-esteem and possible substance abuse, he warned.  Indeed, the longer the period of unemployment, the greater effect it had.

The representative of the World Youth Alliance said the organization’s aim was to build solidarity between young people in the developed and developing world.  The social protection floor was a major aspect of the Alliance’s focus, he said, as it believed that poverty eradication took place at the individual level.  It was necessary to allow the “whole person” and the “whole community” to flourish, he said, adding that strong families and intergenerational solidarity were also essential.

The representative of the Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries said the gap between rich and poor was growing globally.  Violence and conflict had increased around the world and young people were joining armed groups as a way to escape poverty.  A mechanism was needed to address the issue of massive wealth accumulation, which contrasted with extreme poverty.  Corporate social responsibility must not be merely encouraged, but required globally, he said, adding that Governments must do more.  Investments were needed in education, youth training, support to small farming families, access to credits and just trade policies, among other areas.  “The earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed,” she concluded, quoting Mahatma Ghandi.

A representative of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics expressed deep concern over the number of older persons living in poverty, which continued to grow in both developed and developing countries.  Many people worked their entire lives in positions through which they made no contribution to pensions, he noted, advocating, therefore, the establishment of non-contributory pensions to mitigate their poverty and provide them with a guaranteed monthly income.  Since older persons could contribute to households in many ways through such pensions, that could become an important factor in community development, he said.

A representative of the Passionists International said that the neo-liberalist consensus had failed to deliver on its promises and young people were expressing their discontent with the current system.  To build greater social inclusion and decrease inequality, more taxation and benefits to poor people were needed.  Massive amount of budgetary resources must be directed to creating job opportunities to young people.  He described his organization’s projects in El Salvador among gang culture, prioritizing friendship, funding assistance and training.  A small dedication of financial resources that respects human dignity and fairness could make a great difference, he commented.

A representative of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse said that extreme and grinding poverty would remain a reality for many elderly people.  Most poor elderly people still lacked access to microcredit or similar resources, he said, stressing that it was critical that the voices of older persons be heard and their perspective be incorporated into poverty reduction programmes.  The elderly thus far were often invisible, he said.

The representative of Sustain Us, calling for a more just and sustainable development paradigm, said he was alarmed by the limits to economic growth imposed by the unsustainable use of the planet’s finite resources.  He also called for a transparent system that allowed greater access to information on the environment and other critical factors.  All parties should commit themselves fully to the hard decisions that would protect the planet, he said, adding that the education of women and autonomy over their own fertility were critical, as was providing pensions and the implementation of policies that encouraged youth to generate sustainable self-employment.  All States should recognize that sustainable development was the most promising way to move forward, he concluded, calling for a shift away from “myopic goals” towards a more long-term vision.

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