Marking International Youth Day on the sidelines of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the UN Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi said that in order for Brazil to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, its young people need to be included in the process and their rights need to be protected.

Brazil’s economic growth and sustainable development will depend in large part on the investments made today in youth, by ensuring their health and rights are safeguarded and that they can gain meaningful access to quality education and political participation, the Envoy said.

“Achieving the SDGs will only be possible with the inclusion of young people. To do this, we need more resources and investments, particularly when it comes to reaching marginalized youth,” Alhendawi said. “We need to invest more in education, because only with education and a strong social security system can you protect people so that they achieve their true potential,” he added.

Alhendawi spoke was speaking at an event organized by the Office of the Youth Envoy in cooperation with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), the United Nations in Brazil and the UN Office on Sport and Development for Peace. The celebrations, titled “Sport and the Road to 2030,” took place in the Manguinhos neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro and saw the participation of hundreds of local youth.

The Youth Envoy brought to Rio two key messages. First, that the UN is committed to working for youth development in Brazil, highlighting how International Youth Day is not only a time for celebration but also for strong, concrete commitments.

His second message was a global one, “that despite all the challenges we face worldwide, one solution is to increase investment in young people.”

(Participants at the event. Photo: UNIC Brazil)

The need for more resources was also emphasized by the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, Wilfried Lemke, citing the example of South Korea, a country that after being one of the poorest nations in the world for nearly 60 years, was able to turn into an industrial power thanks to investment in education. “The best investment a country can make is in education,” Mr. Lemke said, “and sport is part of education.”

(UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi with UN Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, Wilfried Lemke. Photo: UNIC Brazil)

A recent UNDP report found that only 56% of Brazilian schools have physical education teachers, and in some regions this figure is even lower, said Niky Fabiancic, resident coordinator of UN Office in Brazil. “Many countries have seen significant progress in giving greater access to education to their population. But there are still many shortcomings in terms of quality,” he said. “In Brazil there has been progress, but there is still a long way to go.”

Georgiana Braga-Orillard, Program Director at the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), emphasized the need to ensure universal access to education, regardless of race or sexual orientation. Similarly, the president of Fiocruz, Paulo Gadelha said that education should be considered together with other social policies and not in isolation.

With 51 million youth, Brazil ranks seventh in the list of countries with the highest number of young people in the world, according to UNFPA estimates. 

(Participants at the event. Photo: UNIC Brazil)

The representative of UNFPA in Brazil, Jaime Nadal, noted that in spite of the positive effects of expanding the economically active population, what is known as the “demographic dividend” cannot bring development by itself.

“The economic success of Brazil in recent years has much to do with the increase of the economically active population. But that window is gradually starting to close,” he said. “Future growth will come from human capital.”

According to UNFPA data, nine out of ten young people in the world today live in developing countries and face several obstacles to entering the labor force. 515 million of them live in poverty, on less than $ 2 a day.

Moreover, figures show that 60% of the global youth population—now at around 1.8 billion people—are out of work and out of school. In Brazil, one in five young Brazilians between 15 and 29 years old is not in school and is not working.