‘Young people’ make up a diverse subset of society and can vary in every way except one – they are the drivers of tomorrow’s society. The needs of a 12 year-old girl are very different from those of a 24 year-old male, but it is essential that for the future wellbeing of the world the people in charge tomorrow are given all they require to develop healthily today.
And yet to date young people, particularly those living in poverty, have been usually been ignored in ODA. Aid programmes and initiatives too often have a tendency to benefit those who are in charge today. Of the 1.8 billion young people in the world today, about half survive on less than $2 a day, while more than 100 million adolescents do not attend school. Sixteen million adolescent girls become mothers every year. And almost 40 per cent of the 6,800 new HIV infections each day are among young people.
For development policy to have a sustained impact it must be forward-looking. Investing a fair proportion of ODA in young people is therefore essential for creating a society that will gain momentum and continue to develop.
More than 1.3 billion people -- one in five people alive today -- are adolescents aged 10 to 19. About 85 per cent of them live in developing countries Young people represent an enormous potential resource for most developing countries. Their educational achievement, the skills they develop and the decisions they make about sexual behaviour and childbearing have profound effects, not only on their own lives, but on the lives of generations to come.
Poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes, which are often linked with poverty, can often be traced to the adolescent years, when most people become sexually active. Key risk factors include early sexual initiation, substance abuse, depression and ignorance about contraception. Lack of of power leaves adolescent girls vulnerable to sexual coercion.
Adolescents, even married ones, and especially girls, often have little or no access to reliable information and services, or the economic and social power, to protect themselves against unintended consequences of sexual relations.Adult discomfort with adolescent sexuality is a major obstacle to providing young people with the information and services they are entitled to. The result can be lost potential and opportunities, unwanted children, illness, or even death.
Investments in young people’s development, including education, livelihoods, financial literacy, and health, are among the most cost-effective expenditures in terms of the societal and economic returns. Yet often adolescents are often neglected countries’ development agendas.
At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the Programme of Action signed by 189 countries called for: the protection and promotion of the rights of adolescents to reproductive health education, information and care and a reduction in sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy among adolescents. It called upon governments and NGOs to meet the special needs of adolescents and establish appropriate programmes to respond to those needs. Fifteen years later, with a much larger population of youth, the ICPD commitments to them are more important than ever.
Addressing the needs of adolescents, especially those of girls, is critical to the achievement of every one of the Millennium Development Goals. Education is not only a goal in itself (MDG2) but fundamental to eradicating poverty and hunger (MDG1). Education and health care for young people are essential to reduce child and infant mortality and HIV infection (MDG4, MDG5, MDG6). And the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women (MDG3) has to start with the young.