UNFPA has a vision of a world fit for young people. It is a world that promotes and protects their rights, provides opportunities to develop their full potential, welcomes and respects their voices and views, and where they live free of poverty, discrimination and violence. In such a world, young people possess the knowledge and skills required to make informed, voluntary and responsible life choices, including decisions about sexual and reproductive health.
That vision is also reflected in the Millennium Development Goals.
MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
To reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those suffering from hunger. Applying the poverty line of $1 a day to young people, it is estimated that one in four young people in developing countries are living in extreme poverty. So, if we want to be effective in reducing poverty, we have to focus on youth. With regard to reducing hunger, it makes sense to focus on the many young women who are malnourished and anemic, and whose nutritional status may also affect their children.
MDG 2: Achieve universal primary education
To ensure that all girls and boys complete primary schooling. There are 133 million youth who do not know how to read or write, and another 115 million children who do not go to school. And there are also another 100 million children who, due to a variety of reasons, will be forced to leave school before having learned to read and write. Delaying first births can improve quality of life, educational and employment opportunities for young women. Education – especially completion of secondary school – can help young women break out of poverty, in part because it often leads to smaller families. In countries with high population growth rates, for every extra year that girls spend in school, fertility rates drop by 5 to 10 per cent.
MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Two thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women, and the employment rate for women is only two thirds of that of men. Study after study shows the many benefits of investing in girls’ education. And social change needs to start with the young, who are generally more amenable to changes in social norms than persons who are older and more set in their ways. This goal requires an end to discrimination and violence against women and girls, with changes in attitudes, behaviours, policies and laws.
MDG 4: Reduce child mortality
To reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five. There are 30,000 children worldwide who die daily from preventable illnesses, or ten million children every year. An infant or young child often depends on a mother for survival, facing much higher risks without her. Obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury from obstructed labour, is more of a risk for very young mothers and can result in the death of the baby. Education, especially for girls and mothers, saves children’s lives.
MDG 5: Improve maternal health
To reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality rate. Every year, more than 500,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth, while an estimated 30 times that number suffer from pregnancy-related complications. One in ten births worldwide is to a teenage mother (one in six in the poorest countries), and childbirth is the leading cause of death for young women aged 15 to 19. The percentage of births to women under 20 years of age in the least developed countries is double that of the developed countries. And this puts their lives and those of their babies at risk. Reducing maternal and infant mortality requires universal access to reproductive health and rights. This is particularly important for young women, who currently face the highest risk and yet have the least access to reproductive health information and services.
MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
To halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases. Half of all new HIV infections occur among young people – 6,000 young people aged 15 to 24 every day. HIV infection is increasing faster among young women than any other group. Most young people do not know if they are infected, how HIV is transmitted or how to prevent it. This is the generation that has never known a world without AIDS. We will never reverse the pandemic unless young people have the information and services they need. With no cure in sight, our first line of defense remains prevention.
MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
To integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources. There are 1.2 billion people worldwide who lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion who lack access to toilets. These environmental problems not only affect young people today but will have severe implications for their futures.
MDG 8: Achieve a global partnership for development
In cooperation with developing countries, to create decent and productive work for youth. Each year, 100 million youth enter the global workforce. The lack of productive work for young people perpetuates poverty and is associated with high levels of crime, substance abuse, conflict and the rise of political extremism. This highlights the links between development and peace and security. For a majority of young people, economic life begins in the adolescent years, but unemployment is high for this group.