Today’s 1.8 billion young people are a powerful force, individually and collectively. They are shaping social and economic realities, challenging norms and values and building the foundation of the world’s future.
Governments and the international community are increasingly conscious of the importance of providing resources and opportunities for all young people to reach their full potential as individuals and citizens. They recognise that investing in young people and enabling them to exercise their human rights not only benefits young people themselves, but can also help their countries reap a demographic dividend.
We know that healthy, educated, productive and fully engaged young people can help break the cycle of inter-generational poverty and are more resilient in the face of individual and societal challenges. As skilled and informed citizens, they can contribute more fully to their communities and nations.
For millions of young people around the world, puberty — the biological onset of adolescence — brings not only changes to their bodies, but also new vulnerabilities to human rights abuses, particularly in the areas of sexuality, marriage and childbearing. Millions of girls are coerced into unwanted sex or marriage, increasing the risks of unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, as well as death or disability due to childbirth.
This is why young people, especially adolescent girls, are at the heart of our work at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Working with a multitude of partners, in particular young people themselves, UNFPA is advocating policies and programmes that invest in adolescents and youth and foster a positive environment for them; promoting their access to comprehensive sexuality education as well as quality sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning; and facilitating their leadership and participation. We are doing this with an emphasis on reaching the poorest, most marginalised adolescent girls.
Through this multi-pronged effort, we and our partners are seeing how critical early investments in sexual and reproductive health can enhance the lives of young people and the welfare of their societies. A sustainable future depends on having resilient populations, which cannot be achieved without investments in young people. They not only form a large proportion of the world’s population and deserve their fair share as a matter of equity, but are also in a critical stage of their life cycle that will determine their future – and thus those of their families, communities, and societies.
On this World Population Day, I commit UNFPA’s full support to all efforts to promote young people’s aspirations and to place young people at the very heart of national and global development efforts.
Dr Osotimehin is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNFPA Executive Director