Statement on the Occasion of the Launch of The State of World Population 2003

8 October 2003
Author: UNFPA

Good morning. It is a pleasure, once again, to be in London to launch The State of World Population report of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

This year's report focuses on the need for greater investments to protect the human rights and well-being of young people. This includes greater investments in education, and in health, including sexual and reproductive health.

This report is a wake-up call. It is a wake-up call to listen to young people and acknowledge their needs. It is a wake-up call to increase funding and expand information and services to young people. It is a wake-up call to support them so that they can lead healthy, productive and dignified lives.

Today, there are more young people than ever before—one in five people on Earth are adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19—and they face serious risks to their health and well-being. These risks include HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, early pregnancy and marriage, and pervasive gender discrimination and violence. All of these factors are aggravated by poverty. Today, 238 million youth live in poverty, on less than $1 a day.

How well societies address these issues will have major impacts on health, development and human rights, not only today but also well into the future.

Today, a staggering 50 per cent of the world’s population is under 25 years of age. Young people are growing up in a rapidly changing world. Many are bombarded with sexually explicit images. And, yet, they lack basic information on reproductive health and how to protect themselves from early pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

In fact, the report shows that neglect and underfunding of adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health needs are actually perpetuating poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

AIDS has become a disease of young people, fuelled by poverty, gender inequality and a severe lack of information and services. Today, half of all new HIV infections occur among youth aged 15 to 24. An estimated 6,000 youth a day become infected with HIV/AIDS -- one every 14 seconds.

The world can no longer afford to take half measures as AIDS wipes out growing numbers of the new generation. This is not just a public health issue. This is a global catastrophe that demands urgent global action.

There is clear evidence from Africa, Asia and Latin America that well-designed information and education programmes do lead to safer, healthier behaviour. Far greater support is needed for sexuality education and HIV prevention programmes for young people both in and out of school.

The involvement of leaders in the society, including community and religious leaders, parents, teachers and young people themselves, are essential to these efforts.

The State of World Population 2003 report stresses that education, information and health services are urgently needed in all regions of the world. And I would like to stress that studies repeatedly show that sexuality education does not lead to promiscuous behaviour. On the contrary, it leads young people to take positive action to protect themselves, and often leads young people to abstain or delay their first sexual experience.

We must also remember that the actual circumstances of young people around the world differ dramatically. And, consequently, there is no one magic bullet. No one intervention fits all. There is, however, international agreement that information and services must be age-appropriate and culturally sensitive.

We must also remember that many adolescents and young people are married. In some countries, most girls are married before the age of 18. Globally, there are 82 million girls aged 10 to 17 who will marry before they turn 18. Every year, 14 million teenage girls give birth, and this brings with it great risk. Girls in their late teenage years are twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than are young women in their 20s. So, this report calls for expanded health services for married young people, whose needs are not being met.

Although sexuality remains a highly sensitive subject in many countries, especially with regard to adolescents and young people, some progress has been made in coming up with programmes that work. The best programmes provide information on life skills, including reproductive health, so that young people have real choices and opportunities. But, we must multiply that progress substantially if we are to meet international targets. We will not be able to reverse the spread of AIDS, reduce maternal mortality, and reduce extreme poverty, as called for in the Millennium Development Goals, unless greater investments are made in and for young people. And we will not come closer to achieving gender equality unless greater efforts are directed to the world’s youth.

Together, we must expand efforts to reach youth who are in school, who are living on the streets, and those who are caught in conflict zones, where the risks of sexual violence and HIV infection are alarmingly high. We must confront the realities that exist and take advantage of the opportunity that is provided by the largest youth generation in history.

Supporting young people in their efforts to delay or avoid pregnancy and to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS can bring enormous health and economic benefits. Yet, international funding for population and reproductive health programmes is just 40 per cent of what was agreed upon by governments in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

So, this report is a call to leaders to keep the promises they have made to youth. It is also a call to community leaders, to parents, to teachers, and to all adults who interact with and deal with youth. Finally, it is a call to youth themselves to speak out and participate actively in matters related to their lives and well-being.

Thank you.

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