WORLD YOUTH FORUM OPENS
DAKAR, Senegal, 6 August (UN Information Service) -- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his message to the fourth session of the World Youth Forum of the United Nations System, called on governments to implement the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS adopted by the General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS, and to support the Youth Employment Network, an outcome of the United Nations Millennium Summit. The Forum’s opening ceremony, which took place this morning at the Palais des Congrès in Dakar, was attended by Government officials, representatives of United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental organizations, including the Organization of African Unity, and representatives of National Youth Councils and national, regional and international youth non-governmental organizations. The Forum is expected to conclude its deliberations on Friday, 10 August, by adopting the Dakar Youth Empowerment Strategy.
The Secretary-General, in his opening message -- read out by John Langmore, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) -– noted that every minute, five young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are infected with HIV. Worldwide, that age bracket accounts for at least one third of all people living with HIV or AIDS. Because of this "alarming vulnerability" of young people to the disease, he strongly encouraged governments to carry out the steps to which they agreed in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, such as providing access to the information and education necessary for young people to protect themselves.
On the issue of youth employment, the Secretary-General observed that some 70 million young people are unemployed worldwide, and that many more are struggling for survival on low wages and in poor working conditions. The 15 to 24 age group accounts for more than 40 per cent of the world’s total unemployed. He urged governments and other partners to support the Youth Employment Network -– jointly launched by the United Nations, the International Labour Organization and the World Bank -– which would examine proposals to tackle this problem.
Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal, in his opening address to the Forum, stated that by accepting the invitation to hold the Forum in Senegal, the international community had demonstrated its commitment to making youth a priority issue. President Wade emphasized that youth are society’s prime, richest resource. Young people’s intelligence, generosity and commitment should not be discarded, and it was important that this layer of society should be a target of any development efforts, he stated. Addressing the relationship between the degradation of natural resources and poverty, Mr. Wade said that young people were the most affected. He referred to a new generation of African leaders, and to the important role of young African women who are the spearhead of society. Referring to the new initiative for Africa, Mr. Wade cited the importance of the African Union, which represents a daunting challenge for African youth. African youth would be uniting to prevent the destruction of populations by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, he informed the Forum participants. He stated that the only challenge remaining in resolving these problems was political will, and he urged that the huge potential of youth be continually rekindled.
In his welcoming address, Malick Diop, President of the National Youth Council of Senegal, stated that the struggle for democracy and the achievement of human rights and equality had to be supported and strengthened. The effects of the changing political, economic and cultural order were being strongly felt by the young men and women who were at the frontline of this struggle. Mr. Diop stated that the World Youth Forum was a unique opportunity for youth to reflect on their own issues and to take their place in society. It was also an opportunity to define new opportunities accompanied by programmes and plans of action for youth, and to ensure that their concerns were taken into account. He concluded that young people had to be entrusted with the mission of taking a full role in development, and he urged the Forum to listen to youth and take decisions together.
In his statement to the opening session, Mr. Langmore expressed gratitude to the President and Government of Senegal for their vision, initiative and generosity in issuing the invitation to convene the World Youth Forum in Dakar. He cited the meeting’s central purpose -- to prepare, clarify and strengthen commitment to additional policies and actions aimed at empowering youth to participate more effectively in every aspect of societies, to be educated, have productive fulfilling work, live healthy and creative lives, and contribute to political leadership. "Two of many reasons that this meeting are significant is that it is the first to be held outside Europe, and the first to be held in Africa", he stated. Mr. Langmore also thanked the donors who had contributed to financing and organizing the Forum –- the Governments of Finland, the Netherlands and Norway; the Ford Foundation; the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and the Agence Intergouvernmentale pour la Francophonie.
Over 16 United Nations bodies, agencies and funds are taking part in the World Youth Forum, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), DESA, the Department of Public Information (DPI), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and United Nations Volunteers (UNV).
A number of side events are being organized by United Nations agencies and youth organizations. For example, "Voices of Youth", an Internet site created by UNICEF for young people (http://www.unicef.org/voy/misc/wyf/dakar.html), is part of its activities being undertaken during the Forum, in partnership with its regional office for Western and Central Africa and the UNICEF Senegal country office. The main goal of these activities is to promote the Global Movement for Children, as well as to bring the opinion of Forum delegates to the General Assembly special session on Children in September. The UNESCO, together with the World Bank Institute and the Global Development Learning Network, is organizing five video-conferences which will link Forum participants with youth in countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Western Asia and Europe, to discuss empowering youth for action. A special event on HIV/AIDS and young people, being organized by UNFPA, will feature as speakers Modou Diagne Fada, Minister of Youth of Senegal, and UNFPA Goodwill Ambassadors Lara Dutta (Miss Universe 2000, India), Mpule Kwelagobe (Miss Universe 1999, Botswana), and Wendy Fitzwilliam (Miss Universe 1998, Trinidad and Tobago).
On Sunday afternoon just prior to the opening of the Forum, a special welcoming ceremony was organized by the Government of Senegal in the Demba Diop, the national stadium. The musical and theatrical event, which featured the different cultures of Senegal, was presided over by President Wade and the Minister of Youth, Mr. Fada.
Ten working groups of the World Youth Forum are scheduled to begin their discussions on Tuesday, focusing on the following issues: education and information and communications technology; employment; health and population; hunger, poverty and debt; environment and human settlements; social integration; culture and peace; youth policy, participation and rights; young women and girls; and youth, sports and leisure-time activities.
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