August 12th marks a pivotal day on the global calendar – International Youth Day. This annual observance is not just a celebration of the vibrant energy and potential of young people; it’s a powerful reminder of the challenges they face and the critical role they play in shaping the world’s future. As we honour the aspirations and contributions of our young generation, we also reflect on the journey that led us to recognize their importance on the international stage.
In the corridors of the United Nations, the declaration of International Youth Day in 1999 stands as a testament to the world’s recognition of the significance of youth in global affairs. A product of the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, the designation of August 12th as International Youth Day underscores the urgency of addressing the multifaceted issues affecting young people and the potential they hold as agents of change.
Under this year’s theme, “Green Skills for Youth: Towards a Sustainable World,” the spotlight is on equipping young individuals with the tools they need to champion sustainability. The challenges of climate change and environmental degradation are central concerns for today’s youth, who will inherit the consequences of our actions. By nurturing their green skills, we empower them to lead the charge for a more sustainable and environmentally conscious world.
While there is no universally agreed-upon definition of the term “youth,” the United Nations considers individuals aged 15 to 24 as part of this demographic group. This age range, as endorsed by the General Assembly, encapsulates the vibrant energy of those poised to influence the future. As they step into adulthood, young people bear the potential to create lasting change in education, employment, mental health, human rights, civic engagement, and social inclusion – all of which are central themes highlighted by International Youth Day.
Today, 1.2 billion young individuals aged 15 to 24 make up 16% of the global population. This number is projected to grow by 7% to nearly 1.3 billion by 2030, the target year for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In light of their expanding demographic, addressing the challenges faced by young people becomes increasingly crucial.
Education and employment, pivotal areas of concern, find special mention within the context of youth development. Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to provide inclusive and equitable quality education, emphasizing lifelong learning opportunities. As the pathway to prosperity, quality education equips young individuals with the skills needed to contribute effectively to the global economy and society. Yet, global disparities in education remain, leaving universal access to quality education an aspiration for many.
Similarly, Sustainable Development Goal 8 focuses on decent work and economic growth. The global youth unemployment rate, which stands at 13%, underscores the challenges of securing quality employment. Efforts to provide young individuals with opportunities for meaningful employment are essential for addressing both economic and social inequalities.
Young people have not only been beneficiaries but architects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Their active participation in shaping the goals and targets underlines their role as partners in the implementation of this ambitious agenda. Across the world, youth organizations and individuals are raising awareness, collecting data, participating in grass-roots initiatives, and holding stakeholders accountable for progress.
Within the United Nations system, various programs and initiatives have been established to amplify the voice of youth. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Programme on Youth serves as the focal point for youth-related issues. The engagement of youth delegates in the General Assembly and ECOSOC system further promotes their participation in international decision-making.
The story of International Youth Day is intertwined with the larger narrative of youth’s presence within the United Nations. From the declaration of the International Year of Youth in 1985 to the establishment of the World Programme of Action for Youth, the world’s governing body has continually recognized the potential of young people as vital to global development.
In an increasingly interconnected world, where the challenges faced by young people transcend borders, International Youth Day underscores the imperative for global collaboration. As we celebrate the energy, creativity, and potential of our youth, we also commit to providing them with the support, resources, and opportunities they need to shape a more equitable, sustainable, and just future for us all.