Pledging Support to Young People

23 April 2012
Author: UNFPA

Remarks of UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, at the 45th Commission on Population and Development

Your Excellency, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,

Your Excellency Ambassador [Hasan Kleib] of Indonesia, Chairman of the Commission on Population and Development,

Your Excellency Ambassador [Marjon] Kamara of Liberia, Vice President of the General Assembly,


Distinguished delegates,                                                                

Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank the Secretary-General for warmly welcoming all of us here.

Allow me to welcome him as the first Secretary-General to address this Commission in memory.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has consistently shown leadership on issues that matter to youth.

I have had the privilege of travelling with him to villages in Africa and Asia.

People were so happy to see the Secretary-General at their health clinics, I am pretty sure one or two babies were named Ban Ki-moon!

These days, the Arab youth get a lot of well-deserved praise for their courageous stance on democracy, human rights and social justice.

The attention is new – but their potential and power is not.

UNFPA has been working with young people across the Arab region and around the world for decades.

Our Y-Peer network operates in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and beyond – in a total of some 50 countries on five continents.

That network proves the simple principle that powerful young people can empower their peers.

But don’t take it from me. Here are the words of one young participant, Ahmed Awadalla from Egypt. He said, “We shouldn’t work with youth because they are marginalized but because they are real actors in society.”

This is absolutely true.

UNFPA is teaming up with sister agencies like UNICEF, WHO, UNDP and UN Women as well as civil society organizations to deliver better and Deliver as One.

We are committed to a system-wide mechanism to ensure that all of UNFPA’s efforts have synergy, especially on the ground in the countries where our activities are making a real difference in people’s lives.

We are harnessing the power of technology. We have projects that use mobile phones to help midwives. We are spreading understanding through Skype. We have Facebook and Twitter campaigns that mobilize youth as never before. And we are even using new technology to reach communities that are on the other side of the digital divide.

The nexus between technology and youth is expanding our ability to raise awareness. And when it comes to young people’s sexual and reproductive health, awareness can spell the difference between life and death.

With the right information and means, young people can shape their future.

We often hear that the world now has 1.2 billion people under the age of 20. But when you take a closer look at that figure, you find more than 300 million youth in our world struggle with grinding poverty.

I am especially concerned about adolescent girls. The leading causes of their deaths are complications from pregnancy and childbirth. Many who survive are disabled from their injuries. Young women are also vulnerable to sexual coercion and abuse. They need our protection and our help.

At the same time, let us remember that they are not only victims – they can be a major force for progress.

UNFPA has a remarkable Youth Advisor named Kakenya Ntaiya from a Masai village in Kenya.

She was engaged to be married at the age of five. But Kakenya had different plans for her life. She managed to get an education. She went all the way up to earning her doctoral degree. And as soon as she did, she set a new goal: to educate all of the girls in her village.

Kakenya is remarkable – but her example can also be typical. If we give young women a chance, chances are they will use it to help others.

That is why since becoming Executive Director more than a year ago, I have strengthened UNFPA’s work on youth.

We are now developing a new strategy to sharpen our focus on youth even more.

We are committed to ensuring that youth perspectives are included in global plans to reduce poverty and open the way to a sustainable future.

Our aim is to contribute to the success of the Secretary-General’s action agenda. As part of that, we will mainstream population dynamics into development work and future plans, including the post-MDG agenda.

At the same time, UNFPA is continuing to work with countries to make strategic investments that tap the energy of young people for national progress.

We are supporting comprehensive sexuality education that stresses gender equality, human rights and conflict resolution. We are increasing sexual and reproductive health services and information. We are spreading success through networks of youth that span the world.

Looking ahead to Rio+20 and beyond, we are convinced that demographic changes offer opportunities for sustainable development.

I am deeply grateful for the Secretary-General’s support.

He recently said, “Young people everywhere deserve the power to get information, connect and ask hard questions – about justice, equality and opportunity. Our job is to listen to youth and answer their calls.”

I pledge to do everything possible to help this Commission answer the calls of the world’s young people. And I count on you to join UNFPA in our life-saving work to advance this cause.

Thank you.