News / Asia

UN: Youth Must Have a Voice

FILE - Malala Yousafzai.
FILE - Malala Yousafzai.
Lisa Schlein

The United Nations warns that governments are ignoring the voices of young people and excluding them from important policy decisions at their peril. As nations mark World Population Day on July 11, the U.N. Population Fund says investing in the well-being of adolescents and young people benefits communities throughout the world.

Young people comprise nearly two billion of the more than seven billion people who now live on this Earth. Such a large number of people is a powerful force and cannot easily be ignored. Nevertheless, adolescents and young people are marginalized and subject to some of the worst violations and deprivations in many countries.

Urban and Rural PopulationsUrban and Rural Populations
Urban and Rural Populations
Urban and Rural Populations

The U.N. Population Fund reports an estimated 515 million adolescents and youth aged 15 to 24 live on less than $2 a day. But despite the numbers it notes two out of three countries do not consult young people on key policy decisions that affect their lives.

The agency says young people face many challenges, especially in poor developing countries in Africa and Asia, where the young population is huge.  Obstetrician and senior advisor for maternal health at UNFPA Luc de Bernis said millions of young people who enter puberty are faced with physical changes and become vulnerable to human rights abuses as well.

“This is particularly important where the youth and adolescent, particularly girls are facing high risks-risks of coerced sex and, we know that 10 percent of the young girls, which started the intercourse experiences before 16-it is due to coerced sex and this is leading to complications to early pregnancy, to abortions,” said de Bernis. 

Globally, U.N. statistics find, more than 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year. The U.N. says early marriages, early pregnancies and births account for the high percentage of maternal deaths in developing countries. 

In addition, studies show more than two million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 are living with HIV, a disease linked to coerced sex in such cases.

De Bernis told VOA it is tragic that young girls are forced to face so many unacceptable risks.

“It took me years working in developing countries to understand, to realize that when you are a small girl, a young girl, you have no place where you can be safe. You cannot be safe very often in the family, unfortunately. You cannot be safe in the street. You cannot be safe at school when girls are not respected, when there is no toilet, where there is no space and where the violence is,” said de Bernis. 

De Bernis said healthy, educated, productive young people can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and can contribute to their communities and nations. He said UNFPA is working with governments and with civil society to promote comprehensive sexuality education as well as quality sexual and reproductive health services.

He also said the agency is working with traditional leaders to try to change their perception of young people and to get their support in banning early marriage and improving young lives.

He thinks the old adage that “children should be seen and not heard” is twisted.  On the contrary, he said, governments would do well to listen to the voices of young people, to respect them and to realize how all can benefit from the contributions youths can make to their country’s development.  

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs