By: Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund
This year, world population will hit 7 billion. With this major milestone occurring in my first year as Executive Director of UNFPA, I have an interesting and unique opportunity in leading the organization’s priorities.
One major focus will be today’s large generation of young people. There are an estimated 1.8 billion adolescents and youth aged 10 to 24, accounting for nearly a quarter of the planet's population. Just below 90 per cent of them live in developing countries and that proportion will increase during the next 20 years. They want freedom, participation and dignity and their decisions will define the future.
They need increased support. Under my leadership, UNFPA will strengthen efforts to give young people, especially adolescent girls, the attention they deserve. Along with our partners in many countries, we will push for greater investments in young people across many sectors—in education, including sexual health education, in reproductive health, employment and participation. UNFPA will continue providing technical assistance to implement sexual and reproductive health-care initiatives.
Our efforts help young people, particularly girls, to stay in school, stay healthy and free from unwanted pregnancies and HIV, postpone family formation and eventually enter the labour market with skills to earn an income and contribute to economic growth.
Investing in today’s youth will bring positive returns for current and future generations. This is especially important for the least developed countries that have the highest rates of poverty and mortality, a population growth rate that is nearly double that of developing countries as a whole, and 6 in 10 people below the age of 25.
The large youthful populations are a potential asset if young people enjoy productive employment. This calls for the development of human capital and much higher investment in adolescents and young people and their education, skills and health. Investing in young people, their reproductive health and gender equality, can help put countries on a path to accelerated economic growth and development. This is a message we should all stress whenever we get a chance or an audience.
If we want to shape not only the population of the planet, but also the development of the world, we have to embrace youth as leaders and partners. Young people are energetic and open to the possibilities afforded by new technologies in an interconnected world. Already, they are leading the way on HIV prevention and having a powerful impact on politics and culture. They can make major contributions to solutions to common problems, such as conflict, inequity and climate change. And they will be the parents and teachers of the next generation.
UNFPA remains committed to the core principles of the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), that every person has the right to sexual and reproductive health, every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person has the education and services to grow up healthy, every girl is treated with dignity and respect, and violence against women can and should end. We also rally behind the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health to save 16 million lives by 2015.
As the world prepares to support a 7 billion-strong population, UNFPA is committed to helping young people build a better future for themselves, their families and their nations.
Photo: United Nations/Eskinder Debebe