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Young People Given a Voice at Global Forum

  • Kate Lamb

Executive Director of UNFPA Babatunde Osotimehin delivers his speech during the Global Youth Forum in Nusa Dua on Bali island, December 4, 2012.

Executive Director of UNFPA Babatunde Osotimehin delivers his speech during the Global Youth Forum in Nusa Dua on Bali island, December 4, 2012.

Young people are rarely represented in the highest echelons of power. But as the population of young people increases, especially in the developing world, a new U.N. forum in Bali is giving young people a voice to try to influence senior leaders.

“Hi everybody, I am so honored to be here to honor all youth leaders from all around the world, who can not only change the world, but will change the world to become a better place," said 26-year-old Agnes Monica, an Indonesian singer and actress, today on stage for a very different reason.

Agnes is one of the 900 youth delegates attending a three-day youth forum held on the Indonesian resort island of Bali this week.

Run by the United Nations Population Fund, the event is designed to give young people a voice, says UNFPA executive director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

“What we have done is allow international coordinating groups of young people to determine the agenda, to determine what they want to talk about, and we are hoping that at the end of this meeting they will determine the future of the world and what should that look like,” explained Osotimehin.

Some 43 percent of the global population is under 25 years old, and the numbers of youth are growing fastest in the developing world.

In Indonesia, more than 60 million people are in their early 20's. In Africa, more than 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30.

While economists tout the benefits of a burgeoning labor force in developing countries such as Indonesia - the number of unemployed young people is higher than ever before.

“Having an education is not supposed to be a lucky outcome. Having an education that leads to a job, earns you gainful employment, it’s not supposed to be a lucky outbreak,” stated 27-year-old Chernor Bah, a youth activist from Sierra Leone, speaking at the forum.

He says that for many young people, an education is something they can only dream about. And at the policymaking level, young people barely represent.

But the Bali forum is different.

Alongside policy makers, hundreds of young people from 150 countries are working on recommendations in regard to health, education and reproductive rights.

“Young people have been leading the process, very collaboratively but also in a very open and [in a] honest way. I think when we put our voices together and all our cultures melding and all those barriers that you see and about spoken in the press, they are not exhibited here," Chernor said. "We are young people who want to own our future and define it and be part of the process of making it.

The results will be presented to the U.N. Secretary General and considered by other U.N. bodies in their future development planning.

It sounds good in theory, but is it likely to happen?

“I have to say I am cautiously optimistic, I have been a youth advocate before on some of these issues and sometimes after those meetings you think, ‘wow we just nailed it and it is going to be reflected in the outcome eventually,’ but often it isn’t,” Bah noted.

For those not physically present in Bali, the forum has organized an online forum called the World Café.

So far more than 2,000 young people from 26 countries have logged in.