Statement on the Occasion of World Population Day 2003

11 Jul 2003

Today, on World Population Day, let us focus on the rights and needs of young people. There are more young people today than ever before and they deserve recognition and support. Half of the 6.3 billion people sharing our planet are under the age of 25. Over one billion are between the ages of 10 and 19--the largest youth generation in human history.

Working together, we must support adolescents to achieve their dreams for a better life. If they are prepared with knowledge, choices and opportunities, they can live healthy and productive lives and contribute to a more stable world. If, on the other hand, their needs and concerns are ignored or given low priority, the disservice done is to us all.

At the most basic level, every young person has the right to education and health. Yet, far too many young people are deprived of schooling and adequate health care, and the consequences are devastating. Each day, over 70,000 teenage girls are married, many against their will, and nearly 40,000 give birth. For these young women, this means an incomplete education, limited opportunities and serious health risks. Assisting girls to complete secondary schooling and delay marriage and childbirth can help break the cycle of poor health, illiteracy and poverty. Stronger efforts are also needed to confront sexual violence, exploitation and abuse.

Another great risk and challenge is HIV/AIDS. Today, half of all new HIV infections occur among young people. Each day, 6,000 young women and men are newly infected. These facts alone demonstrate the need for greater education, information and services to help young people protect their health. In countries where national programmes target and involve youth, infection rates are declining. By educating, empowering and mobilizing young people, we can turn the AIDS epidemic around.

Young people have a right to reproductive health information and services. Studies repeatedly show that education about sexuality and reproduction does not increase irresponsible behaviour. On the contrary, it helps young people to make responsible, healthy decisions.

Today, on World Population Day, I invite leaders to listen to young people's concerns and hopes and put in place laws, policies and programmes that support their well-being and participation and protect their human rights.

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