6 October 2005
In Round-Table Discussion, Youth from around World Consider Roles in Global Economy, Civil Society
NEW YORK, 5 October (UN Headquarters) -- Youth from around the world voiced their views this afternoon on the challenges facing their generation during an interactive round table entitled "Young people: making commitments matter".
The round table, comprising three segments: young people in the global economy; young people in civil society; and young people and their well-being, served as a forum to discuss concrete, practical ways to further implement the 1995 World Programme of Action for Youth. Young people under the age of 25, speakers noted, accounted for half of the world's current population. More than 200 million of them lived in poverty; 88 million were unemployed; and millions were illiterate or suffering from HIV/AIDS. That translated into enormous challenges unless greater efforts were made to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the target year of 2015.
Representatives of Member States, Observer States, agencies and bodies of the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations also participated in the round table. The meeting took place one day before the General Assembly's plenary session, featuring youth delegates from 30 countries, to assess progress during the last decade and the remaining challenges facing young people to achieve the objectives of the World Programme of Action for Youth.
Segment 1: Young People in a Global Economy
JAN ELIASSON (Sweden), President of the sixtieth session of the General Assembly who chaired segment 1, said that young people had come to the meeting representing the plight of many young people in the world. Everyone had seen young people pay a price in conflicts and diseases, and there was no doubt that they often paid a very, very heavy price. States needed to hear their voices, and he was sure that there would be voices today.
States were currently talking about rejuvenation of the United Nations, and the youth were in a very concrete sense bringing about such rejuvenation, he said. Countries wanted to hear the views of young people, and wanted them to be clear and fresh in what they wanted. While youth had all the right to be impatient and questioning, they should be innovative and creative. He added that he believed that youth's voices of reason, of seeing through fresh eyes, would be very important.
RENALDAS VAISBRODAS of Lithuania, representing European States, said that globalization was about making things faster, bringing people closer, and sometimes also about making gaps wider. Globalization affected young people, and young people often were not the ones who championed the globalization process, because they were being discriminated against. Different responses to the concerns that young people had were necessary, and more importance should be allocated to the role that youth organizations played. There was also a need for the promotion of global education and an awareness of matters of global concern, such as employment, as they related to young people.
The consequences of the lack of education and employment for young people were significant, he continued. Young people had repeatedly heard that they were the first generation with the capacity to end poverty, and he expressed hope that they would not be the next ones to fail, but the first ones to succeed. Eradication of poverty, however, was not solved only with money. In a world with enough resources for everyone to meet basic needs, it was unacceptable that so many were denied those basic needs.
Young people did not want things to be done for them, but wanted to do those things for themselves, he said. In order to do that, however, they needed the assistance and commitments of States. He asked for States to give young people the tools to enable them to develop their lives, and said that States and young people needed to do that together. Together, they could end poverty and find solutions and compromises that could address the problems of today, as well as make commitments and prevent the difficulties of the future. Young people and States had to make commitments matter.
FATOUMA DIAKHABY, Representative of the Youth Employment Summit and the Agence Intergouvernementale de la Francophonie of Senegal, said her agency had underlined 15 priority points during a meeting in May in Cairo regarding implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. Of the more than 1 billion people worldwide living in poverty, 200 million were youth. Poverty was linked to the lack of access to basic services, such as drinking water, road transport and education. Young people in rural areas bore the brunt of the recent and unprecedented periods of drought, water shortages and reduced harvests, forcing many to migrate to more economically developed areas to help feed their families. Agriculture must become a remunerative activity and a more attractive sector, she said.
Illiteracy was also a major cause of poverty, she said, noting that most illiterate youth, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), lived in developing countries, particularly in rural areas. Improving literacy and girls' school enrolment were useful in combating poverty. Respecting education also meant improving its quality.
Education was closely linked to employment, she said, stressing that 88 million young people were unemployed, mainly in North Africa and Asia. Market needs would determine employment access for youth, and youth training systems must be restructured.
During the ensuing discussion segment, participants underscored the importance of focusing on improving the quality of education as well as its quantity in education policy-making. One participant highlighted the need for United Nations agencies to work together on youth development issues, noting that the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Bank were not closely collaborating on youth issues. Another stressed that youth needed to acquire the necessary skills, information and access to finance in order to become self-employed and start sustainable enterprises. The commitments at the United Nations, as they related to the World Programme of Action for Youth, must also be made in the Group of Eight and ILO.
Mr. ELIASSON told the round table that everyone could make a difference and that the United Nations must be a grass-roots movement if it was to be strong and vital. He noted that the World Programme of Action of Youth had identified the needs of all young people, including disadvantaged groups, such as young migrants and indigenous youth.
Segment 2: Young People in Civil Society
NGUYEN HONG NHUNG, Representative of TakingITGlobal in Viet Nam and Asia-Pacific Regional Youth Editor of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, said youth played an active role in civil society. Volunteerism was an important aspect of youth development. Many young people performed community service, which was beneficial for youth development and societal integration. Student leaders in South-East Asia had adopted the motto "you can't lead if you can't serve", she said, stressing that volunteerism was not a leisure activity but an essential contributor to society's proper functioning and well-being.
Involvement in information-technology development was also important for youth development, she said. TakingITGlobal and the Global Youth Action Network were good examples of youth working together to close the digital divide in rural and urban areas. More needed to be done in that regard and in other economic sectors to contribute to youth development.
ANDREW DUNKELMAN of the United States, representing the North American States, said he believed that the importance of youth and civil society could not be questioned. The assurance that young people would be engaged in the future was a critical component of other themes. Success in other areas depended on success in the cluster of youth. There was an immense good that could arise if young people and adults came together to address worldwide problems holistically.
In terms of the participation of youth in decision-making, he believed that by meaningfully engaging young people in the decisions that affected them, they could help build consensus and develop new and innovative solutions to old problems.
Young people firmly believed that they did not want to be set up for failure, he continued. Instead, they wanted to be taught how to work with adults, and to be given access to skills and information. Bodies such as the United Nations were already doing that good work, and he expressed hope that States would take the celebration of the anniversary of the tenth Programme of Action on Youth to redouble such efforts.
Following the opening of the floor to participants, several representatives said it was necessary to promote the full and effective participation of young people at national and international levels. Many recommended that young people should be provided with training, as well as support to ensure the transparency of youth organizations. Meanwhile, a representative expressed a need to focus on South Asian youth, as there was a large number of youth living in poverty there, while another participant said that the United Nations system should design policies to help young people living in conflicts and post-conflicts.
A representative said that more had to be done to sufficiently prepare young people for life after education, while several participants said that Member States could not miss the current opportunity to take action regarding young people. Similarly, a representative said that youth were the backbone and future of society, and States must realize that young people might represent a risk factor if they were abandoned, and must think carefully about how to invest in the potential that youth represented. Another participant added that the matter at heart was empowerment, and he urged the round table to identify how to better include youth at all levels.
Acknowledging that youth were playing a more important role in society, a representative stressed that mere discussion was not enough. Lastly, a participant called for the creation of a council of young people at the United Nations, which he believed would be very productive and effective, and would ultimately make a real impact. He added that a working group on youth should also be formed following the meeting.
In closing remarks, the chair, ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola), expressed appreciation for the participants' direct and forward-looking comments. Interesting points and proposals had been raised, and he was very much impressed by the fact that had been mentioned during the segment, that youth were only included once in the World Summit outcome document. That was a real gap that needed to be filled, he said.
Segment 3: Young People and Their Well-Being
DANAH AL DAJANI, Representative of the Princess Basma Youth Resource Center in Jordan, said Arab youth grew up hearing the message that they lived in an area of conflict and instability. More than half of the Arab population was under age 25 and grappling with the difficulties of unemployment, poverty, risky behaviour and military occupation, among others things. In the past decade, Arab youth had witnessed civil and military conflicts, violence and injustice. Many had themselves been child soldiers. This constant climate of uncertainty left many preoccupied every day with such concerns as whether it would be safe for them to play outside, to go to school and whether they would see their families the following day. Many had lost faith in the system as a whole.
While it was impossible to predict the upheavals and uncertainties Arab youth would be forced to contend with, young people must be able to acquire the necessary skills to deal with them, she continued. Civil society efforts were encouraging youth to speak out, and legislative reform was helping them to mobilize. Still, it was difficult to meet the demands of a growing youth population, particularly in rural areas. The challenges they faced were largely internal, she said, highlighting the difficulty of every day survival of Palestinian youth living under occupation. They also grappled with the lack of adequate health care as there were limited youth and gender-friendly health clinics in the region. During the recent World Economic Forum in Jordan, Arab leaders stressed the need to invest in youth, she said, adding that youth policy formulation in some Arab countries encouraged greater youth involvement in the development process.
GABRIELA PEREYRA of Argentina, representing Latin American and Caribbean States, said that she believed the round table presented an opportune occasion to allow for the exchange of experiences and viewpoints concerning the situation of the world's youth. It was an important moment to decide how to improve activities concerning youth, who must be involved in designing related policies. In
Latin America, more than 700,000 young people lived under difficult, precarious circumstances, which meant that they were at risk and might in turn also represent a risk to others. The current situation regarding youth required all to make joint decisions and establish targeted policies that would address such needs.
It was also necessary to launch awareness campaigns and to create social equality, which required access to basic health services, education, and employment. Joint efforts must be undertaken through cooperation, investment, and the designing of long-term government policies, but the current situation differed from that ideal. She stressed that young people were the future, but were also very much a part of the present, which was why they required training and needed further opportunities. The right to health, education, and all basic requirements and needs must be guaranteed by Member States and also by international youth organizations, and must be guaranteed and enshrined in actions.
She said that young people could participate actively in many ways and was convinced that they could make progress in the road to achieving a better world for all. Stressing that young people all had the same needs, faced the same challenges and shared the same dreams, she added that youth policies designed in the future could truly meet the specific needs of young people.
During the discussion that followed, representatives stressed that youth participation was key to development, and said there was a serious challenge to involve youth effectively. One representative said that support was needed in order to have a strong programme of youth empowerment, and that by mainstreaming youth issues in all programmes, States should be able to effectively implement the Millennium Development Goals and the World Programme of Action.
Another speaker reminded States that adults often were not good enough at listening, and stressed that commitments could not happen until the adults present at the meeting listened to ideas and included them in their documents. Similarly, a representative said that his youth organization cared about the United Nations and how institutions functioned, and had a positive attitude and energy, but he asked whether it was too much to expect the same from Member States. Along those lines, another representative wondered why it was so difficult for politicians and delegates to approach youth and said that only when both sides learned from each other could they really make a change.
Lastly, another representative suggested that each mission should be mandated or assisted to have a permanent youth representative to the United Nations, which he said would help to develop the ability of young persons to participate.
In closing remarks, the chairperson, AZALINA OTHMAN SAID, Minister of Youth and Sports of Malaysia, recommended that there must be a follow-up and follow-through of the views that had been presented during the round table.
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