The significance of the International Youth Day

On 17 December 1999, in its resolution 54/120, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth (Lisbon, 8-12 August 1998) that 12 August be declared the International Youth Day (IYD).
Lamin M. Manneh
Lamin M. Manneh

On 17 December 1999, in its resolution 54/120, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth (Lisbon, 8-12 August 1998) that 12 August be declared the International Youth Day (IYD).

When that World Conference of Ministers made the recommendation in August 1998 to adopt 12 August as the day for renewed reflection on the issues affecting the youth, they probably could not have imagined the full extent to which the challenges and opportunities facing the youth would have become central development issues today. It is therefore fortuitous that the UN Secretary-General endorsed that recommendation in December 1999. A recent World Development Report of the World Bank noted that “The current cohort of young people in developing countries is the largest the world has ever seen…” As it is by now widely appreciated, this presents both enormous development, social and political challenges and opportunities in countries across the world, prompting the development of various specific youth development programmes or schemes in many countries, developed and under-developed.

Therefore, the annual celebration on 12 August of the International Youth Day (IYD) provides an important opportunity for stimulating awareness on youth issues and reflecting on the ways to address them effectively.

This year’s theme for the International Youth Day is “Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward.”

Youth are recognized as one of the most mobile social groups in the context of migration. According to the United Nations estimates, by mid-2010 the global number of international migrants aged 15 to 24 reached 27 million, constituting more than 10 per centof the annual total of some 214 million international migrants. Yet not much is known about the livelihood struggles and opportunities that migration presents for young migrants and other youth who are affected by migration.

The reasons young people migrate are many. Some are fleeing persecution, others are escaping economic hardships. While migration can often offer valuable opportunities and contribute to the development of communities and society at large, it can also pose serious risks and lead to unacceptable situations, including discrimination and exploitation. Poverty, over-crowded and unsanitary living conditions and the challenges of finding decent employment are regular features of the migrants’ experiences. Young women, in particular, face the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. For these reasons, it is important to raise awareness about the situation of these young people as well as the role of youth-led organizations in addressing migration issues together with other issues faced by young men and women.

International Youth Day 2013 represents a unique opportunity to underline these concerns and present some of the actions being taken to address them. In his Five-Year Action Agenda, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon identified “Working with and for Women and Young People” as one of his top priorities. Accordingly, he has appointed earlier this year Mr Ahmad Alhindawi of Jordan as his Envoy on Youth to “work to address the needs of the largest generation of youth the world has ever known” and support the integration of young people’s concerns into UN programming. The Secretary-General has also called in his Five-Year Action Agenda for the creation of aUN Youth Volunteer Programme with the aim of empowering youth and fostering their participation and active citizenship through volunteering: this Programme is currently being developed by the UN Volunteers (UNV) programme.The Secretary-General has further requested the development of a UN System-wide Action Plan on Youth (Youth-SWAP). The SWAP is a response t
o calls from Member States for increased coordination and collaboration among UN agencies which are supporting youth programming and policy. The Youth-SWAP focuses on the following thematic areas: employment, entrepreneurship, political inclusion, civic engagement and protection of rights, education - including comprehensive sexual education, and health.

Rwanda is certainly among the countries that have known the biggest migration movements that the world has ever known,in both relative and absolute terms, during but even before the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Consequently, the country has a large Diaspora population, that epitomizes both the enormous opportunities and challenges of migration, that the country knows so well to take advantage of in the case of the former and address in the case of the latter. In Rwanda, internal migration from rural areas to urban centres also equally concerns the youth.

The One UN in Rwanda is actively helping in addressing the issues faced by these sections of the population. Echoing the national policy agenda of promoting pro-poor growth for employment as a way to get out of poverty and to attain the middle income status as per the major development goal of Vision 2020, UN agencies are developing, in the framework of the United Nations Development Assistance Plan (UNDAP 2013-2018) for Rwanda, a flagship programme to promote youth and women employment. Given the national demographic structure of Rwanda with about 78.7% under 35 years of age, and women and men aged 14-35 years who constitute 38.5% of the total population, the aim of this programme will be to support agricultural development and employment for decent jobs while at the same time creating more off-farm jobs for the youth and women in services and industrial sectors. This should pave the way for employment-enhancing structural changes in the economy to absorb the growing number of young people who are entering t
he labour force (estimated annually at 125,000).

While responding to some of the issues faced by the youth, the One UN in Rwanda also strives to listen to the aspirations and priorities of the country’s youth for the “Future We Want”. Indeed, a global conversation facilitated by the United Nations is currently underway regarding the way forward beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a contribution to the elaboration of a new global development agenda.In Rwanda, reflecting the demographic realities of the country, the voices of the Youth have been included as a specific group in the consultations led by MINALOC and the One UN for the formulation of a nationally owned Post-2015 Development Agenda. Further consultations, in the form of debates, are ongoing with the most vulnerable groups among the youth of Rwandato ensure that all the young Rwandans havean opportunity to voice their views on what issues they deem important for their future and what changes would make the world a better place to live in.

On the occasion of this 2013 International Youth Day, I join the UN Secretary-General in encouraging Rwanda, youth-led organisations and other stakeholders to act to promote the rights of all youth, including young migrants, and maximise their development potential. It is also the opportunity to renew our commitment to continue accompanying the Government of Rwanda in its efforts to tackle this important development challenge, that will persist into the next so many decades.

Together, using young men and women’s talent, commitment and enthusiasm, we can transform the challenges faced by youth into huge opportunities for Moving Development Forward!

The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator.

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