LEON, Mexico — The hall was filled with the energy of some 4,000 young people from more than 100 countries, who had gathered at the World Youth Conference Social Forum here today to have a say about the future.
"This energy is unrivalled, as it comes from their belief that the world can be changed, that the future can be better than today; because we know for a fact that young people are powerful agents of change," said Ms. Purnima Mane, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (Programme) at the opening of the Social Forum.
The other segment of the conference, a Government Forum, is scheduled to be officially opened Wednesday by Mexican President Felipe Calderon and UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. Some of the discussions during the conference will include online participation by young people all over the world four-day event.
"Twenty five years have gone by since the International Youth Year was held for the first time, and fifteen years since the Programme of Action for Youth was adopted by governments at the United Nations General Assembly," she continued, adding, " We have an urgent, unfinished agenda about young people around the world. This is a Conference, not on young people, but for, with and by young people, to review their current situation, and to advance the unfinished agenda."
There are currently more than 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24, accounting for more than a quarter of the world’s population. Nearly nine out of ten young people live in developing countries.
The purpose of the youth conference, organized by the Mexican government with support from the United Nations, is to put the needs of young people more prominently on the political agenda. A declaration from the global conference will be presented at next month’s UN General Assembly meeting in New York, which will focus of the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals.
“We hope that the world will listen to the voices of young people who attend the Conference and increase investments in youth – in their education, health, employment and leadership– so that they can reach their fullest potential,” said Ms. Obaid.
Worldwide, the youth unemployment rate stood at 12.1 per cent in 2008, compared with 4.3 per cent for adults, according to the International Labour Organization. Of the 3 billion people living on less than two dollars a day, about half are below the age of 24.
Leila Mucarcel of Argentinean Youth for the United Nations said that in the case of Latin America, “inequality is what distinguishes us from other parts of the world. Income levels determine the degree of access to reproductive health services and education,” she said.
Experts argue that investing in education and reproductive health services for young people makes economic sense, because those who enjoy such rights are more likely to contribute to peaceful and prosperous societies.
“If you can’t make decisions concerning your own body, it’s also difficult to participate and make decisions at the level of communities,” said Alejandro Blancas (29), President of the “Espacio Iberoamericano de Juventud” a regional youth organization.
The conference will focus on 13 issues:
- Public policies and investment
- Poverty and exclusion
- Technology and innovation
- Access to justice and security
- Gender equality
- Sustainable development and climate change
- International migration
- Global cooperation
In the lead-up to this Conference, thousands of young people urged action on education, health, security and employment, as well as on technology, culture, migration, gender and sustainable development. '"We need to translate this vision to concrete actions," said Ms. Mane. "I encourage you to think about how to bridge the gap across generations. Let us not forget that the dialogue has just begun and will not, and must not, end today.
"I encourage you to keep on working when we go back home. I urge you to spread the outcomes and insights of this conference and let the world know what is on your mind.
"Now it is your time to speak, so say it aloud and boldly! The world is listening."