Development & Aid, Education, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Population, Poverty & SDGs

DEVELOPMENT: Our Youth, Their Future

Rajiv Fernando

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 2 2007 (IPS) - With young people a growing segment of the world’s poorest, their voices in setting global development policies at the highest levels have never been more important.

Youth delegations meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo

Youth delegations meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo

Some estimates indicate that almost one in five young people survive on less than a dollar per day, while nearly half get by on less than two dollars. Young people aged 15 to 24 are a quarter of the world’s working population – but they make up half its unemployed.

This disparity is particularly pronounced in developing and least developed countries, where around 51 percent of the combined population is below the age of 25.

The U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set forth a global agenda to end extreme poverty, with a focus on these lower income countries with large youth populations.

Still, the youth contingents sent to the U.N. during the General Assembly each September usually hail from developed, mainly European countries. This year, there were some exceptions, with youth delegates coming from Azerbaijan, Mexico, Thailand and the Philippines.

“The main reason that developing countries cite for not having youth delegates is the costs of sending someone to New York for several weeks,” said Anke Green, associate social affairs officer with the U.N. Programme on Youth. “Visa regulations are also often an issue. In some cases, unfortunately, it is also due to a distrust of youth. There are still many countries which do not recognise youth as a positive force for development.”

Part of the U.N. Secretariat, the Programme on Youth organises activities and assists the General Assembly in setting priorities and creating policies on youth development.

Leticia Gasca, 21, was one of two youth delegates representing Mexico. “Since I was 16, I have been working with rural and indigenous communities, and a few years ago I founded an NGO that promotes development in rural areas,” Gasca, who also edits a Mexican newspaper focusing on social responsibility, told IPS.

“When I realised that I could be a youth delegate, I wanted to share the views and the proposals of indigenous young people, and also to learn from the other youth delegates,” she said.

Gasca collaborated with the Mexican Mission on the First Committee and covered the “High Level Dialogue about Intercultural and Inter-religious Cooperation for Peace”. She said the experience was inspiring and she hoped to share what she learned with rural youth in Mexico.

Gasca’s goals are to keep working in rural development and young people. She added, “I also want to create a web site to share the ideas of the past, present and future youth delegates of Mexico with all the young people.”

Organised by the Social Integration Branch of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the U.N. Programme on Youth hosted some 25 youth delegates from 18 countries during the 62nd General Assembly.

Green says there have been youth delegates from northern European countries coming to the U.N. since the 1970s. In 1981, the General Assembly adopted a resolution for the first time officially encouraging member states to include youth delegates in their national delegations.

Priority issues of the Youth Programme include education, employment, hunger and poverty, health and environment.

According to the most recent report from the Ad Hoc Working Group for Youth and the MDGs, as of 2005, more than 113 million children were denied access to primary education and more than 150 million people had never completed it. Girls are particularly excluded from primary education.

Another 250 million children aged five to 14 in the developing world cannot go to school because they are forced to work.

Poverty is fast becoming a global epidemic, and young people are especially at risk. But according to the Youth & MDGs report, youth participate more effectively in United Nations deliberations on issues of sustainable development than in any other U.N. priority area and are effective at lobbying governments for stronger commitments.

All around the world, they are working at the grassroots level and contributing to the MDGs targets, which include sanitation, child and maternal health, environmental sustainability and gender equality.

“I would like to talk to a lot of young people and tell them how important their contribution can be to make a change,” said Adina Rom, 22, a youth delegate from Switzerland. “If we want the MDGs fulfilled and if we want to have a better, more just and inclusive society, everyone can make their contribution in some way and this is the main message I would like to pass to young people.”

At home, Rom is actively involved with a group that works against racism and discrimination (, and also in other groups promoting peace in the Middle East. She is currently doing an internship at Human Rights Watch.

While at the U.N., Rom organised a side event at the Swiss Mission about the empowerment of vulnerable and marginalised youth in work and education. In her speech at the third committee, she stressed the importance of guaranteeing human rights in the global economy, and adopting national and international legislation to force non-state actors such as multinationals and financial institutions to assume their social responsibilities.

Marah Köberle of Germany told IPS that her interest in becoming a youth delegate came from being involved in youth programmes for 12 years. Koberle just spent eight months travelling across Germany, visiting universities and schools, and meeting with a wide spectrum of youth organisations, which cited equal opportunities, water, globalisation and HIV/AIDS as some of their primary concerns.

“My motivation is to change things and to stand up for the rights of young people to change the world we are living in,” Koberle, 22, told IPS.

After addressing the Third Committee, she and the other German youth delegates started working on the informal consultations of the resolution “Youth in the Global Economy.” She also met Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and participated in the “Stand Up Against Poverty” event at U.N. headquarters on Oct. 17, along with some 43 million other people around the world.

Green hopes that the experience the youth delegates gained in their preparation for the GA and during their time in New York will inspire them in their future lives.

She added, “We truly hope that more and more countries will recognise the value of including youth in their delegations and that one day, the majority of countries will have youth delegates. For this to happen, however, governments will need to recognise the value of investing in youth. Assistance also needs to be provided to governments that are constrained by the costs to enable them to support youth delegates.”

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