This is a wake-up call for the international community to do more to meet its commitment to building a world of inclusion, justice, mutual trust and prosperity. In particular, it demands that we work harder to improve the social and economic opportunities of the younger generation.
The goals and objectives of the Millennium Declaration, reaffirmed by the 2005 World Summit, are galvanizing the international community’s efforts towards the eradication of poverty. Indeed, the fight against poverty has become the undisputed, overarching goal of the entire UN system, if not the entire international community. Given the fact that young people constitute a large and growing proportion of the population of developing countries, and given the prominence of questions affecting youth within the millennium development agenda, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can be seen in essence as “youth development goals”. Yet, the gap between the vision inherent in the MDGs and the current reality for young people in many countries is widening.
Poverty in all its various dimensions – hunger, ill health, inadequate access to education and other basic services –, combined with a lack of participation in decision-making processes, greatly impedes the development and well-being of young people. Particularly disquieting is the fact that girls and young women are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the pernicious effects of poverty. Poverty is not only a violation of basic human rights; it is also a denial of opportunity. Governments and international organizations have an obligation to respond to the hopes of young people for a fulfilling life and a chance to realize their potential.
UNESCO has made considerable efforts to address the urgent needs of young people suffering from poverty. We have designated the eradication of poverty, in particular extreme poverty, as a cross-cutting theme for the whole Organization, and have at the same time ensured that the needs of youth and young people are mainstreamed by all Programme Sectors. UNESCO has also launched innovative intersectoral pilot projects in all regions of the world, aimed at targeting the needs of young people and strengthening youth leadership. As we move closer to 2015, the target date set for many of the MDGs, it is imperative for UNESCO – as for the international community at large – to work in a more focused and effective manner to meet the challenge of eradicating poverty among youth.
The lessons learnt in our work confirm that tackling the conditions of youth poverty requires a sustained and integrated approach, which promotes awareness of human rights and educates young people on the availability of health and legal support. Above all, concerted efforts are needed to empower young people as actors and partners in development. Young people need to acquire the encouragement, skills and knowledge that will enable them to join hands and lead initiatives to combat poverty.
On the occasion of International Youth Day 2006, I therefore call upon leaders in all walks of life to come together to raise awareness of youth poverty, to scale up investments in tackling this problem, and to develop integrated policies and programmes that engage young people and their organizations as key partners in development efforts. I also urge young people to make their voices heard and to take action towards our common goal of a better life for young people today, and for all of humanity in the future.