Here's an astonishing statistic: about one sixth of the world's six billion people -- that's a billion -- are between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. They represent, according to UNESCO, "the largest generation of adolescents in history." And, UNESCO continues, "more than four fifths of them live in developing countries, particularly urban areas." The United Nations has recognized this compelling demographic in its designation of August 12th -- this coming Saturday -- as International Youth Day. To quote the UN's description of it, the day is a "call for action in 10 priority areas" that affect young people: "education, employment, hunger and poverty, health, environment, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, leisure-time activities, girls and young women, and full and effective participation of youth in the life of society and in decision-making."
The theme of this year's recognition of the world's young people is "Tackling Poverty Together." That's an essential task when you consider that, according to last year's World Youth Report, "over 200 million young people . . . live on less than one dollar a day, and . . . over 88 million youth are unemployed." In its excellent on-line publication, "Adolescence: A Time that Matters, " UNESCO reminds us, just in case we've forgotten, about the plights of young people around the world. It's worth hearing UNESCO's summary at length: "As they grapple with physical and emotional changes, today's adolescents must also cope with external forces over which they have little control. Demands of culture, gender, globalization and poverty have pushed millions of adolescents prematurely into adult roles and responsibilities. Civil war and unrest, HIV/AIDS, industrialization, urbanization and rising unemployment have dramatically undermined the education and development of millions more. As traditional social networks unravel, the structure of families is reshaped and sometimes demolished, and the capacity of family and community support systems shrinks. With their world lacking safety, consistency and structure, all too often adolescents are left to make difficult choices, largely on their own."
And yet some of the first large surveys that have recently been taken of young people in Latin America and the Carribean have found that they remain optimistic and expectant that their lives will be better than their parents. They haven't lost hope, nor should we. Rather than rolling our eyes at their short-comings and mythologizing them as incompetent hedonists and ne'er-do-wells, we should be encouraging the best to emerge from our young people. We should be actively engaged in their lives and involving them in ours. For as Nelson Mandela put it: "My dear young people: I see the light in your eyes, the energy in your bodies and the hope that is in your spirit. I know it is you, not I who will make the future. It is you, not I, who will fix our wrongs and carry forward all that is right in the world."
Copyright 2006© John Cech
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Monday, 28-Aug-2006 14:34:20 EDT