More than 80 youth representatives from 10 West African countries attending a United Nations-backed conference pledged today to help their peers throughout the region by taking steps to improve sexual and reproductive health, encourage education, work towards poverty alleviation and promote peace.
“Young people are our active partners in development,” UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative Guy De Araujo told the meeting in Bissau, capital of Guinea-Bissau. “Without their leadership, we can not possibly hope to achieve the realization of the MDGs in West Africa,” he added, referring to the Millennium Development Goals.
Among other targets, these aim to halve extreme poverty and hunger, ensure universal primary education, slash child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters and halt and reverse the incidence of HIV/AIDS – all by 2015.
“We are eager to offer them support in identifying challenges facing youth today and help them achieve solutions regionally, nationally and locally. These youth are taking responsibility for ensuring their own futures,” said Mr. De Araujo, whose agency co-sponsored the forum.
The four-day meeting brought together representatives from the 10 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Mali, Guinea and Senegal.
The youth representatives identified four key areas of concern to West African young people:
Emigration as a direct consequence of poverty and unemployment;
School dropout rates, particularly among girls;
Alcoholism and drugs;
The lack of information related to sexual and reproductive health, including sex work and the trafficking of minors.The youth-led initiative is a joint effort undertaken by the African Youth and Adolescent Network on Population and Development and the National Forum of Youth and Population of Guinea Bissau with the backing of UN and regional organizations as well as private sector sponsorship.
“They may need support to achieve their goals, but this forum is about youth in action,” said Lyne Godmaire, UNFPA Regional Adviser on Youth based in Dakar. “These young people are very engaged and know what further action to take on these issues.”