11 July 2003
World Population Day
Statement by Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director, UNFPA
Statement by Kofi Annan,
UN Secretary General
Events Worldwide
Adolescent reproductive health
HIV/AIDS and young people
Youth participation and ideas for action
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World Population Day 2003
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State of World Population

Message of the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan

World Population Day

11 July 2003

The theme of this year’s World Population Day, “One billion adolescents: the right to health, information and services”, highlights the need to support young people in their efforts to lead safe, rewarding lives and contribute to the well-being of their families and communities.

Throughout the world, millions of girls and boys are deprived of an education, harming their individual prospects and those of society at large. In some countries, half of all girls are married before the age of 18, often resulting in early childbearing that poses serious health risks to both mother and child. Experience shows that educated women are more likely to marry later, and have healthy and better educated children, who will pass on these benefits from one generation to the next. Education and information also influence how many children they will have. If a woman were to wait until age 23, instead of age 18, to have her first child, that alone could reduce the momentum in population growth by over 40 per cent.

Information and services are also crucial in the fight against AIDS and the broader quest for good health. Young people should know how the HIV virus is transmitted, and how to protect themselves from infection. This is important everywhere but is absolutely critical in countries where infection rates are already high or quickly rising. Reproductive health services and factual information about reproductive health will also help young people to avoid risky behaviour, unwanted pregnancy and poor health in general. And in conflict zones, where levels of sexual violence and abuse are dramatically heightened, young people need appropriate and sensitive services to recover and participate in their country’s return to normal life.

If the world is to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and implement the programme of action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, the most effective interventions will involve young people themselves. It is they who can best identify their needs, and who must help design the programmes that address them.

One of every six people on earth is an adolescent. In the developing world, more than 40 percent of the population is under age 20. The decisions these young people make will shape our world and the prospects of future generations. On this World Population Day, let us recognize their right to the health, information and services they need and deserve.

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