Youth agenda and education are vital to global success says UN director

Girls' education

It’s a cliche to say that children are our future. But never has it been more true, according to a United Nations chief.

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said young people will be vital in ensuring the success of the next phase of international development. And education will be critical to achieving that.

He said: “The youth agenda has never been more important.” Referring to the post-2015 global agenda, he added: “They are the ones who will own that space – and the girls are the ones who will actually make the difference going forward.”

In a podcast on the New Security Beat website, Mr Osotimehin said primary school enrolment across the world was over 90% – which he called an “enormous success”. But he added that in sub-Saharan Africa, a quarter of primary-age children are not in school and the secondary school completion rate is much lower.

He said: “Access to secondary education is a challenge to girls. And we know that disadvantage and that challenge is because they get married off at 11 or 12 and they disappear from the statistics. That is something we need to address.”

The UN chief said sensitive issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights had to be tackled.

He said early and forced marriage was still a major problem in some countries. Mr Osotimehin added: “People just give their girls off. It ends their education and it actually puts them at risk (of maternal mortality).”

He pointed out that there are now between 1.8billion and two billion people aged 10 to 24 in the world – almost a third of the global population.

With people living longer and having fewer children as countries develop, future generations will not have a large group of younger workers to support them.

He added: “We will have to ensure that we equip young people appropriately to be able to sustain themselves.”

Selamawit Bekele, an A World at School Global Youth Ambassador from Ethiopia, was pleased to hear the comments.

She said: “Young people have been asking governments and the international community to recognise the need for equal education opportunities.

“Hopefully Babatunde Osotimehin's words will spur them into action and provide young people with the resources and support to reach their full potential.”

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