UN marks World Population Day with calls to invest in 3 billion young people

11 July 2006

From its Headquarters in New York to hotspot frontlines like Afghanistan, the United Nations today marked World Population Day with the focus on the more than 3 billion young who represent nearly half of Earth’s people and calls to answer their demand to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

“There is a clear need to answer their call,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a special message. “After all, providing for youth is not just a moral obligation, it is a compelling economic necessity.

“Study after study has shown the benefits - to the young and to their communities - of investing in education, reproductive health, job skills and employment opportunities for young people.

“Such returns are especially great in the case of girls. Healthy, educated and informed young women are better prepared to participate fully in society and contribute to the life of their communities,” he added citing the “particularly important” role of sexual and reproductive health information and services in the global fight against AIDS and in allowing the young to make better decisions about starting families.

“The decisions young people make will shape our world and the prospects of future generations,” Mr. Annan declared. “Yet, underinvestment in the young means that they often lack the resources, training or information to act. Governments must, inevitably, lead the way in addressing this failing. But all of us - policy makers, civil society actors and ordinary citizens - should contribute in ways, both large and small.”

The Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, stressed that millions of young people today are threatened by poverty, illiteracy, risks of pregnancy and childbirth, and HIV/AIDS.

“Today, more than 500 million people aged 15 to 24 live on less than $2 per day; 96 million young women in developing countries do not know how to read or write; and 14 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 become mothers every year. Every day, 6,000 young people are newly infected with HIV,” she said in a message.

“UNFPA champions young people’s rights to education, health and employment. We recognize that investments in young people promote social and economic growth. Key to these efforts are keeping girls in school, building life skills, delaying marriage and pregnancy until adulthood, and preventing HIV infection. Young people have the power to drive development forward,” she added.

In the field, in Kabul, Afghanistan, UNFPA teamed up with the Government to mark the Day at an event at the Ministry for Culture, Information and Youth Affairs. “Today millions of young people are threatened by poverty, illiteracy, risks of child birth and HIV/AIDS,” UNFPA representative Alain Sibenaler said.

“We will not meet these challenges unless young people are actively involved, their voices are heard, their needs are met and their human rights are respected,” he added. “More needs to be done. Today is a step forward in actively engaging with the young people of Afghanistan. They are the light of Afghanistan’s future.”