Interactive Population Center A Time Between

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Safeguarding
a Future of Promise


Empower Girls to Delay Pregnancy until Physical and Emotional Maturity

Prepare Boys and Young Men to Be Responsible Fathers and Friends

Encourage Adults–Especially Parents–to Listen and Respond to Young People

Help Young People Avoid Risks and Hardships

Provide Education with Accurate and Timely Information

Provide Services That Suit Young People's Situations and Concerns

Involve Young People in Decisions Affecting Their Lives
Adults have a choice: Regard young people as problems or welcome them as partners. Young people themselves assert that they are part of the solution, as the introduction to the Braga Youth Action Plan, adopted at the World Youth Forum, proclaims:

"Young people can and should be a part of the solution to the problems in the world. Everywhere, young people and youth organiza-tions show that they are not obstacles, but invaluable resources for development."

By the time adolescents face life’s decisive moments–like saying yes or no to sexual activity–parents and teachers will have had many opportunities to prepare them. Too often, however, these opportunities will have been missed.

Being prepared to make responsible decisions as an individual comes from being involved in decision-making in the family and community. For this to happen, adults must take the views of young people seriously. The Convention on the Rights of the Child says that the young have a right to be prepared to participate fully in decisions affecting their lives.

Taking Young People’s Views Seriously

Participation is about making real decisions in the real world. Inviting young people to participate is a long and gradual process. It often requires teachers to change the way they teach. Parents are asked to take a supportive role, encouraging young people to explore new ideas, express their views and, if appropriate, to take action in response to a concern.

Young people’ s participation is also about honesty. Be honest about how far they can go, depending on their age and the cultural context. In development projects and programmes, for example, youth participation does not mean that teenagers get everything their way. They do, however, have a genuine impact on decisions.

In projects and programmes for sexual and reproductive health, young people may be involved as advisers and decision-makers from a project’s development phase to its implementation and evaluation.

Kadjika, a young woman from Togo, says that peer education is one way for young people to be involved. "We are convinced that if governments understand the value of sex education and if they provide education about contraception, health care, anatomy and physiology through schools and churches, they will make young people themselves into good educators within the community," she says.

Partnership With Adults

Adults who work with young people discover quickly how different one individual is from another. This sense of diversity among youth is valuable information for a project planner or government policy-maker. Adults are reminded to focus on the situation at hand. Young peoples’ situations vary dramatically: 6-year-old children asking embarrassing questions, 16-year-old boys pressured to abuse alcohol, young women pushed into marriage too soon, young men of one ethnic group fighting young men of another ethnic group. Concerns cross over into family and community life, from health into education, and from the personal into the political.

Few issues are simply "adolescent issues". A list of challenges to young people reads like a list of challenges to human development. They live with the growing gap between the rich and poor; injustice and exclusion resulting from worldwide inequities in income, wealth and power; cuts in government spending in human services; xenophobia; racism; gender discrimination; and lack of access to education, information and health services.

Commitment. That is what young people need from governments, businesses and the international community. Financial resources are needed if young people are to realize their full potential. They also must be able to participate in decisions affecting their lives. Commitment starts by recognizing the young as actors in society today with a direct stake in tomorrow. This commitment will enable young people to become full and active partners in the development process.

No one should be left out. Making it possible for all young people to participate is part of the commitment. Young women and young men need to participate on equal terms. So do young people burdened by illiteracy, unemployment or discrimination based on disability, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Young people should participate in decisions taken today about the environment and resources of tomorrow. By organizing into groups, young people are often empowered to participate more effectively in political decisions and social policies.

Actively Involve Youth

"Youth should be actively involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of development activities that have a direct impact on their daily lives. This is especially important with respect to information, education and communication activities and services concerning reproductive and sexual health, including the prevention of early pregnancies, sex education and the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases." (ICPD Programme of Action, paragraph 6.15)

Worldwide Support for Action

Like many other conferences in the 1990s, the ICPD in 1994, recommended much more active youth participation at every level of society. Governments, international agencies and organizations worldwide were called upon to work together with young people to improve health and development. Nations agreed that by the year 2015, reproductive health should be available to all, including young people.

Ideas for action are clearly spelled out in a variety of statements, from binding international treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the widely accepted ICPD Programme of Action. There are clear ideas and common agreement on what needs to be done. There are also persistent obstacles due to the sensitive issues that cannot be ignored when young people are recognized as sexual beings. In the Braga Youth Action Plan, which was largely written by young people, optimistic words ring with hope and energy:

"Young people can and should be a part of the solution to the problems in the world. Everywhere, young people and youth organizations show that they are not obstacles, but invaluable resources for development.... Youth are building democratic leadership, civil society and social capital for the 21st century."

These words will inspire adults who respect the voices of youth. They will know what to do: welcome young people as partners and invite their genuine participation in decisions affecting their lives. In so doing, children will learn the skills they need to cope with the modern world. In so doing, adults will be safeguarding the potential of young women and young men and protecting them during a crucial time in life. As for young people, they will have the health, schooling and life skills they need to fulfil their future of promise.

How Young People Are Making a Difference

Young people in the Caribbean are mobilizing to combat increasing levels of adolescent pregnancy and births to teenage mothers, earlier and unprotected sexual relationships, and alarming numbers of STDs among adolescents.

In Jamaica, the performing arts are applied to social issues by an award-winning ensemble named for a Yoruba word meaning "the strength, power and talent within": ashe. With a diverse repertoire, ASHE draws on songs and dances with roots in Afro-Caribbean, traditional, folk, gospel, reggae and popular dancehall music. Its original educational musicals address such issues as HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, the environment and children’s rights.

The ensemble features 25 full-time professional performers. ASHE’s academy has enabled many hundreds of young people between the age of 9 and 25 to receive training in singing, dancing, acting and drumming. Among its many activi-ties, ASHE produced a music video, "Choices", advocating the empowerment of young women and their right to say "no"; a musical event entitled "Solid" that tells the story of a family con-fronted by teenage drug abuse and pregnancy; and "VIBES in a World of Sexuality" dealing with HIV/AIDS and other STDs.

In Venezuela, young people are reaching out to other youth through programmes on the radio, discussion groups, newsletters and theatre. AVESA (Asociación Venezolana para una Educación Sexual Alternativa) activities range from advocacy for prevention to the counselling on sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence. AVESA has involved young people in creating meaningful messages for the media, notably in more than 70 radio spots and six videos for television broadcast. AVESA Juvenil is the youth volunteer group, where young people receive training to become health promoters and peer group trainers.

Young People as Advocates for Their Reproductive Rights

Last year in the Netherlands, students and working young people between age 16 and 25 joined together and started a group, the Dutch Council on Youth Population, dedicated to promoting the sexual and reproductive rights of young people in all parts of the world. At home in the Nether-lands, the Council works with other youth organizations, tours schools and participates in youth events. The group aims its messages at prominent policy makers by engaging in public debate, and attempts to create awareness about the need to take action to pro-tect the sexual and reproductive rights of young people everywhere. Members will par-ticipate in the next World Youth Forum of the United Nations. This will be an opportunity to promote the rights of young people at the inter-national level.

Types of Action Young People Can Take

Young people are taking an active part in meeting needs related to population and development. In the Cairo Youth Declaration on Population and Development, September 1994, more than 100 young participants articulated their commitment to actions such as the following:

  • Promoting peer education through work-shops and seminars and through vocational, leadership and organizational training;
  • Involving, motivating and educating peers through artistic activities such as music and drama;
  • Implementing peer counselling and aware-nessraising through one-on-one interaction, group discussions, newsletters, newspaper columns and radio programmes;
  • Creating jobs for peers through cooperatives and businesses;
  • Educating parents and other members of the community;
  • Lobbying local, national and regional governments and businesses, banks, the media and inter-governmental structures;
  • Creating networks of interpersonal support, information sharing, cooperation and inter-organizational collaboration.