Nearly one fourth of the world’s population, some 1.8 billion people, are between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the United Nations 2014 State of World Population Report. Nonetheless, young people are often overlooked, shut out of the decision making process, and their needs are often disregarded. “This tendency cries out for urgent correction,” states the report, “because it imperils youth as well as economies and societies at large.”
There is a strong correlation between poverty and low investment in the well-being and development of young people. “In most countries, their numbers compound challenges in escaping violence, in finding dignified work, or in gaining access to decent schooling and youth-friendly health services, including reproductive health and family planning services,” notes the report. And this in turn feeds the vicious cycle of poverty.
The report points out that nine out of ten young people live in less developed countries, where schooling and jobs are scarce. Many lack access to reproductive health information and services. U.S. Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard, who spoke on the release of the report, emphasized that these are services young people need to preserve their options, pursue their future goals and even save their own lives.
Too many girls, about 39,000 every day, are subjected to early and forced marriage. Some of these child brides are as young as eight. As Assistant Secretary Richard pointed out, the consequences of early marriage and young people’s unmet need for contraceptives can be grave. Among 15 to 19 year-old girls in low and middle-income countries, complications from pregnancy and unsafe abortions are a leading cause of death. And while HIV fatalities for other age groups are falling, among adolescents, they are rising.”
The United States strongly supports the report’s recommendations, including stopping early and forced marriage, adolescent pregnancies and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation; improving access to reproductive health care for the young; preventing gender-based violence; promoting equal education for girls, and improving young people’s employment opportunities.
“We now know just how much is at stake. Not only the risks of failure, but the enormous benefits within reach with the right mix of enlightened policies and effective programs,” said Assistant Secretary Richard. “Young people deserve the chance to pursue their dreams and to thrive. As this report shows very clearly, by helping youth secure their future, we can also secure ours.”