DAKAR, 10 August (UN Information Service) -- A call for the establishment of an Education and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) fund to promote North-South and South-South cooperation was one of a number of recommendations set out in the final document adopted by the World Youth Forum of the United Nations System, which ended here this evening following five days of debate and consultation between youth groups and representatives of United Nations agencies. The Dakar Youth Empowerment Strategy will be conveyed to the United Nations General Assembly later this fall.
The World Youth Forum, which was hosted by the Government of Senegal, had as its central purpose the empowerment of youth to participate more effectively in every aspect of society. Donald Charumbira, Secretary-General of the World Assembly of Youth and Chairperson of the Forum’s fourth session, called it "a landmark meeting with the important task of drafting the Dakar Youth Empowerment Strategy as a set of concrete recommendations for youth empowerment". He said that one of the most important developments during the Forum was the adoption of a special annex on HIV/AIDS, which indicated the commitment and dedication of the world’s youth to tackling this major health challenge. "The special annex eloquently states that the responsibility lies not only with governments and civil society, but with youth themselves in taking action to fight the epidemic," stated Mr. Charumbira.
The Forum’s recommendations cover youth concerns in the 10 areas addressed by working groups, namely education and information and communications technology, employment, health and population, hunger poverty and debt, environment and human settlements, social integration, culture and peace, youth policy, participation and rights, young women and girls, and youth, sports and leisure-time activities. The meeting’s recommendations were regarded by observers from United Nations agencies, bodies and organizations as reflecting the vision of youth empowerment as seen by young people and as demonstrating their desire to participate in shaping policy on youth matters.
Odile Frank, Chief of the Social Integration Branch of the United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development, said that the Forum served two primary purposes. First, it was a forum for young women and men who represent youth worldwide to communicate their concerns and desires to the United Nations Secretariat and to the specialized agencies of the United Nations. Second, she said that it provided a means for communication among youth all over the world.
Ms. Frank stated her hope that the decisions taken in Dakar would be the beginning of a new, empowered international youth process.
Rima Salah, Regional Director for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that her agency needed young people’s participation for their energetic commitment and vitality for the Global Movement for Children.
Dungus Abubakar, an Information Officer from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), stated that the UNFPA promotes young people’s empowerment, participation and leadership since they are part of the search for solutions. The issues discussed at the fourth session of the Forum, such as poverty, education and health, were consistent with the goals of the International Conference on Population and Development of supporting youth to make informed and healthy choices and to realize their full potential.
Addressing the issue of youth unemployment, Grace Strachan, a Senior Economist at the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that the fourth session of the Forum had given the ILO an excellent opportunity to share information on the Secretary-General’s Youth Employment Network, and to get feedback on the draft recommendations of its high-level panel which met less than a month ago in Geneva with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO, and James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank. Magatte Wade, Director-General of AGETIP-Senegal, and a member of the high-level panel, presented the Network as a real opportunity for young women and men to interact with political leaders at the highest level, to get their voices heard in major policy debates, and to take action on generating decent work for young people.
Over the course of the week, the impact of such a large and multifaceted gathering of young people –- more than 300 in all, the majority of whom were under the age of 24 -– could be seen and heard throughout the Palais des Congrès. In the exhibition hall, delegates, observers and special guests examined a variety of information displays which were arranged on the walls and tables, and discussed particulars of projects, including the "Voices of Youth" project undertaken by UNICEF and the FAO project "Future Forests". The walls of the exhibition space were covered with colourful posters, flyers and T-shirts, offering headlines in the many languages of the participants. One poster stated "There’s a Forest in Your Future". Another poster urged young women and girls to "Say No!" to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS, while another called for stopping violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation. Other messages to young people included "Change the World with Children", "Turn on Music, Turn off Drugs", "Save the Ozone Layer", and "Tobacco Kills!"
This was the fourth such gathering organized by the United Nations, and the first to be held in Africa. The first and second sessions took place in Vienna, Austria, in 1991 and 1996, and the third in Braga, Portugal in 1998. The mandate for the World Youth Forum can be found in paragraph 125 of the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1995 on the tenth anniversary of International Youth Year. It states that effective channels of communication between non-governmental youth organizations and the United Nations system are essential for dialogue and consultation on the situation of youth and implications for its implementation.
The Preamble to the Strategy declares the concern of the young people participating in the Forum about the continued deterioration of the status of youth worldwide, who face growing levels of unemployment, poverty, armed conflict, epidemic diseases, functional illiteracy, and substance abuse -– among other social and economic challenges -- despite global advances made in technologies, entrepreneurship development and medical research. Other concerns addressed in the Preamble include hunger and malnutrition, homelessness and unsafe environments, social exclusion, the cycle of indebtedness of developing countries, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, unequal opportunities for education, human rights abuses, including child labour, trafficking and sexual exploitation, and children and youth in armed conflict, the unequal status of young women and girls, violence and suicide, and the deterioration of the environment.
The participants argued for the implementation of holistic and integrated youth empowerment strategies that are applicable at the global, regional and national levels and involve young people at all stages of conception, formulation and implementation. They called upon governments, the United Nations system and civil society organizations to support young people in their endeavours to obtain the resources for comprehensive youth empowerment programmes. Among the Forum’s recommendations are the following:
Education and Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Recognizing the impact of ICT on the ways young people learn, interact and participate in the emerging global information society, and in order to guarantee universal access to education at all levels, participants called for the establishment of an education and ICT fund to promote North-South and South-South cooperation. In order to close the digital divide, the working group called for measures to improve quality and access to education and ICT, and the use of ICT as a medium for dissemination of information about such important issues as HIV/AIDS and environmental problems.
To increase investment in relevant skills training, the working group on youth employment called for emphasis on training appropriate to the job market and informal sector, and collaboration between employers and training providers. In keeping with the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the participants recommended improved working conditions for young people, promoting their rights and recognizing their voice and representation at work. It also called for the provision of market opportunities, training in business skills, and access to credit and other financial services.
Health and Population
The group on health and population recommended increased access to national and international resources in order to establish formal and informal educational programmes on HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, sexual and reproductive health, and mental health. It called on governments to ensure access by young people to health information, health services, and sexual and reproductive health services. It also advocated implementation of the recommendations adopted by the United Nations General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS, especially those pertaining directly to youth issues.
Hunger, Poverty and Debt
The working group on hunger, poverty and debt recommended the promotion of self-employment schemes, in order to empower young people in rural and urban areas to combat hunger and poverty. In order to provide a long-term strategy to minimize the effects of hunger and to eradicate poverty, it emphasized the importance of education, training and capacity-building of young women and men. Youth should be provided with the capacity to effectively respond to challenging global problems such as climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, HIV/AIDS and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
Environment and Human Settlements
This group proposed that cooperation be increased between young people and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The participants acknowledged the potential role of national and regional youth platforms in monitoring the implementation of Agenda 21 and the Habitat Agenda, and called for the creation of sub-committees within such platforms. The groups also recommended that a youth-friendly version of the Habitat Agenda be produced, and that governments include young people in their official delegations to Rio+10 and the Commission for Human Settlements.
The working group on social integration called for technical, human and financial support to assist marginalized and vulnerable youth to organize themselves in order to address their own needs and interests, and to contribute to social progress. Based on the belief that young people and their organizations are the best agents for delivering change for young people, the working group recommended the promotion of volunteerism among youth organizations in order for them to take the lead in peer-to-peer training. It called for the promotion of the interests of marginalized and vulnerable youth in decision-making bodies, including the United Nations General Assembly, and the provision of equal opportunities for such youth through education and employment, to enable them to participate in all levels of society.
Culture of Peace
The working group recognized that to build a true culture of peace it was necessary to develop justice and respect for human rights. It supported a number of concrete proposals, including the formation of a network of young people who would be involved with United Nations agencies in conflict resolution, as well as a network which could generate mechanisms to ensure the participation of young representatives in the reconciliation process, negotiation and peace-building. It also called for the development of programmes to support the education of a culture of peace in schools at all levels.
Youth Policy, Participation and Rights
In addition to its call to the United Nations for improved communications with youth organizations, this working group urged governments to include youth representatives in their delegations to the United Nations General Assembly and other meetings. It called on governments to commit to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child at the General Assembly special session on Children in September. The working group also requested the United Nations to reconsider its definition of youth -– which encompasses the ages of 15 to 24 –- and raise the upper limit to 30, in order to meet the challenges of young people specifically in developing countries.
Girls and Young Women
The working group identified three key issues relevant to promoting the advancement of girls and young women –- health, education and preventing violence. It called for free education at all levels for girls and adolescents, as well as cost reduction for contraceptives and treatment for HIV/AIDS, and prevention and treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases. The group also urged Governments to provide sex education and family life education at all levels. It called for measures to combat gender-based violence, including the creation of youth- and female-friendly centres and services for young women and girls. Other recommendations included education programmes aimed at raising awareness and breaking stereotypes, and the use of young women educated in math and science as role models.
Youth, Sports and Leisure-Time Activities
This working group recommended increased collaboration between the United Nations and youth organizations and associations, and encouraged United Nations assistance to such organizations at the grass-roots level to develop sports, cultural and traditional activities. It recommended the promotion of measures to recognize the participation of young voluntary workers in youth associations and non-governmental organizations, as well as training and technical assistance to such organizations.
Other recommendations by the Forum participants included the establishment of mechanisms for monitoring and implementation of the Braga Youth Plan of Action adopted in 1998 and the Dakar Youth Empowerment Strategy, including through national reports, reports from governments, and a global report on youth published by the United Nations.
At the closing session of the World Youth Forum, the Prime Minister of Senegal, Mame Madior Boye, stated that the World Youth Forum was a decisive step in the right direction in addressing the challenges facing young women and men, and she commended the recommendations contained in the Dakar Youth Empowerment Strategy. She urged young people to be a force for change in the world in the fight against global problems, such as hunger and poverty.
Odile Frank of the Social Integration Branch of the United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development, in her closing comments, said that she was gratified that the World Youth Forum had addressed two issues which were of concern to the United Nations Secretary-General: youth unemployment and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
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