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World Population Day Spotlights Young People

World Population Day this year is focusing on the millions of young people threatened by illiteracy, poverty, the risks of pregnancy and childbirth and HIV/AIDS. A growing number young people are demanding action to narrow the opportunity gap.

The United Nations is using World Population Day Tuesday to shine a spotlight on the unique challenge faced by the burgeoning ranks of young people. An estimated three billion people, or nearly half the world's population, are under the age of 25.

Rogelio Fernandez Castilla of the U.N. Population Fund says this is a critical moment for policy-makers in developing countries to invest in the future of youth.

"The population structure is changing in a way that the number of young people entering productive ages, entering job markets, is increasing and the number of dependent people, particularly children below 15 is decreasing," said Rogelio Fernandez Castilla. "So that generates a window of opportunity where investment to increase the human capital and invest in increasing the labor productivity is going to generate tremendous returns."

Mr. Fernandez Castilla says the opportunities posed by growth of the productive sector is tempered in many countries by the increasing spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa. He says World Population Day activities are aimed at raising awareness about AIDS.

"In Africa, one of the highest threats that societies are facing is the spread of HIV/AIDS," he said. "If World Population Day contributes to create higher awareness and convince young people that there are ways they can protect themselves from a disease that will lead to disability and death, that will be a very positive outcome of World Population Day."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's World Population Day message notes that youth today are more than ever aware of the lives led by their counterparts around the world, and are demanding action to increase opportunities for all.

Mr. Annan urged governments to heed that call, and to invest in education and employment opportunities for young people.