»Junge Leute müssen im Zentrum zukunftsgerichteter Entwicklung stehen« | Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik


»Junge Leute müssen im Zentrum zukunftsgerichteter Entwicklung stehen«

Jahresbericht des UN-Bevölkerungsfonds zur Weltbevölkerung, 18.11.2014 (engl. Originalfassung)


Our world is home to 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, and the youth population is growing fastest in the poorest nations. Within this generation are 600 million adolescent girls with specific needs, challenges and aspirations for the future.

Never before have there been so many young people. Never again is there likely to be such potential for economic and social progress. How we meet the needs and aspirations of young people will define our common future.

Education is critical. The skills and knowledge young people acquire must be relevant to the current economy and enable them to become innovators, thinkers and problem-solvers.

Investments in health, including sexual and reproductive health, are also central. When young people can make a healthy transition from adolescence into adulthood, options expand for the future. Yet today, more than 2 million 10 to 19-year-olds are living with HIV: about one in seven of all new HIV infections occur during adolescence.

Strategic investments can allow young people to claim their rights—to education, health, development, and to live free from violence and discrimination. Yet today one in three girls in developing countries is married before the age of 18, threatening her health, education and future prospects. Up to half of sexual assaults are com- mitted against girls below the age of 16. Rule of law and security institutions must be strengthened to protect the rights of all, including young people. Realizing these changes will require that young people are counted and have a voice—meaningful partici- pation—in governance and policymaking.

With the right policies and investments, countries can realize a “demographic divi- dend,” made possible by falling mortality and fertility rates. With a larger working popula- tion and fewer dependents, a country has a one-time opportunity for rapid economic growth and stability.

To realize this dividend, investments are needed to build institutional capacity, strengthen human capital, pursue economic models that improve employment prospects, and promote inclusive governance and the enjoyment of human rights. International support can unlock the potential of the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, change agents and leaders.

Twenty years ago, 179 governments at the International Conference on Population and Development endorsed a groundbreaking Programme of Action, which recognized the important role of young people in development. Today, we have an opportunity to define a post-2015 sustainable development framework, built on lessons learned, that empowers youth and includes specific indicators and targets on education, skills development and employment, health, especially sexual and reproductive health, youth participation and leadership.

Young people must be at the centre of the post-2015 vision for sustainable development to drive the future we want.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

Executive Director

A message from Irem Tümer, contributing editor

Calls for investments in young people have increased dramatically in recent years. Meanwhile, more and more countries agree that policies that help young people fulfil their potential can also help drive economic development. This year’s The State of World Population is significant because it frames investments in youth not solely as responding to the needs of young people, but also as an imperative for sustainable development. The perspective and data that are being presented in this report can be a very valuable asset for the advocacy and programming of youth-led organizations and youth activists.

In many countries today, there is a discrepancy between rhetoric about the need to invest in youth and young people’s participation in policymaking, planning and implementation. With the momen- tum that is created by the ongoing discussions on young people, there also emerges a great opportu- nity for their further integration in development processes. This requires dedication, will and commitment on both sides.

Terms like “investment in youth” may imply that young people are or can only be passive recipients of investment. But this view is misguided because young people can and must be indispensable partners in development. In my involvement in youth organizations, I have seen firsthand that with the right support, young people can be the problem-solvers and innovators who can break the mould and find new ways of doing things or ways to do them better. Young people are in the best position to understand what they and their peers need and are able to ensure implementation in broader networks that are often inaccessible to policymakers.

While it is vital for policymakers and other stakeholders to reach out to young people, the responsibility also lies with youth-led organizations and youth activists to bring their involvement to the next level by establishing themselves as sustainable and reliable partners. Being accountable and profes- sional are first steps in establishing their credibility. Youth organizations must also adapt to our rapidly changing world and embrace new technologies that can revolutionize commerce, industry and policymaking.

Even though it has become well-established that investing in youth makes good economic sense and is a human rights imperative, the latter is sometimes forgotten, especially when young people are called on to “change the world.” But the world will not change, no matter how hard we try, if young people are not able to exercise their human rights. It is true that young people will be the major drivers of change in the coming decades, but it should still be remembered that most of the investments that this report is advocating should be made to ensure that the fundamental rights of young people are pro- tected. A world in which a quarter of humanity is without full enjoyment of rights is a world without the basic building blocks for change and progress.

The My World 2015 survey revealed that globally, young people see “a good education,” “better health- care” and “an honest and responsive government” as actions that would make the greatest difference to their lives. Better job opportunities and protection against crime and violence are similarly important. These responses show a lingering global need to provide the essential conditions for the full empow- erment of young people.

Young people are about to inherit an enormous responsibility for resolving many long-standing complex problems, ranging from poverty to climate change, yet they have mostly been excluded from participating in the decisions that will determine what the future looks like. Young people must therefore have a say now in shaping the policies that will have a lasting impact on humanity and the health of the planet.

As the sustainable development goals that will follow the Millennium Development Goals are being defined, policymakers must not neglect to prioritize the needs of young people and make room for them to carry the next develop- ment agenda forward. Young people should be involved in all aspects of the process. Only through meaningful representation by and col- laboration with youth will it be possible to move away from an entrenched mindset of delivering basic services to youth towards an approach that empowers young people and enables them to realize their potential.

Ms. Tümer, 23, is a former Women Deliver Youth Leader and member of the European Youth Parliament. She lives in Turkey.

Youth: big numbers, big challenges, big possibilities

Young people matter. They matter because they have inherent human rights that must be upheld. They matter because an unprecedented 1.8 billion youth are alive today, and because they are the shapers and leaders of our global future. Yet in a world of adult concerns, young people are often overlooked. This tendency cries out for urgent correction, because it imperils youth as well as economies and societies at large.

There are more young people between the ages of 10 and 24 today than at any other time in human history. And in some parts of the world, not only do the numbers of youth grow, but so does their share of the population. In some countries, more than one in three is a young person.

Why do these trends matter?

In some countries, the growth of the youth popula- tion is outpacing the growth of the economy and outstripping the capacities of institutions charged with providing them basic services. Will schools and universities be able to meet the demand for education? Some 120 million young people reach working age every year. Will there be enough jobs to accommodate their need for decent work and a good income? Are health services strong enough? Will the young, including adolescents, have the information and services they need to avoid early, unintended and life-changing parenthood? Will the next generation be able to realize its full potential?

The emergence of a large youth population of unprecedented size can have a profound effect on any country. Whether that effect is positive or negative depends largely on how well governments respond to young people’s needs and enable them to engage fully and meaningfully in civic and economic affairs. Governments can choose to see their growin numbers of young people as a liability, a cohort that will place demands on strained resources, or as an opportunity. With the right policies and investments and the engagement of young people in nurturing their own potential, the largest generation of young people in human history can become the problem-solving producers, creators, entrepreneurs, change agents and leaders of the coming decades.

Today’s generation of young people numbers slightly less than 1.8 billion in a world population of 7.3 billion. That’s up from 721 million people aged 10 to 24 in 1950, when the world’s population totaled 2.5 billion (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2014).

The Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs projects under its “medium fertility” scenario (often consid- ered the “most likely” demographic outcome) that the number of 10 to 24-year-olds will reach two billion by the middle of this century. Slight changes in expected birth or death rates over time, however, could easily change this outcome.

Global estimates and projections, nonetheless, mask vast differences in age structures between and even within countries. Large and still-growing populations of young people are already challeng- ing many less-developed and low-income countries, where government capacities and resources are strained. Without appropriate investments today in youth—girls, boys, young adolescents and young adults—to prepare them for the future, these chal- lenges of meeting the needs of a growing population will become increasingly daunting with time in many lower income countries.

While the ageing of populations is a frequent topic in the news media and among economists and policymakers, humanity as a whole is still young. Most people alive today have yet to reach age 30. In the world’s 48 least developed countries, most people are children (under age 18) or adolescents (ages 10 to 19). In Afghanistan, Timor-Leste and 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, half the population is under 18. In Chad, Niger and Uganda, half are under 16. In six countries—five in sub-Saharan Africa and Israel—populations are actually “youthening” rather than ageing, meaning their median age is projected to decline from 2010 to 2015.

In countries such as Burundi and Niger, this youthening process will continue at least until 2020 before reversing. After 2020, ageing is projected to proceed at various rates in all the world’s countries. The proportions of the young in all populations— though not necessarily their absolute numbers— will shrink with time.

This demographic reality, tied to the ongoing shift in the balance of world population from younger to older people, creates risks. In more developed coun- tries, smaller cohorts of young people may be tasked with paying more per person for the pensions and health care costs of larger older populations. But the ongoing proportional shift towards older age groups, along with the declines in fertility and the lengthen- ing of life expectancy that bring it about, also offers opportunities of incalculable value. For example, consumption of goods and services by older persons, who often have more disposable income than the young, can result in an expansion of industries that cater to older persons. Rising demand for services provides significant investment opportunities and contributes to economic growth.

Lack of meaningful work among young people is playing into frustration that has in some instances contributed to social unrest or unmanaged migra- tion. Indeed, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and southern and western Asia, which have some of the largest cohorts of young people, are confront- ing or will soon confront seemingly insurmountable challenges to meeting the needs of rising younger generations in future decades. If investments are prioritized so that all individu- als in developing countries gain the power and the means to decide freely and responsibly whether, when or how often to have children—to exercise their reproductive rights—fertility rates will decline. Research has shown that when individuals have a choice, they will choose smaller families. Lower fer- tility, along with successful interventions in saving children’s lives and extending life expectancy, are the building blocks for a demographic transition and potentially to a demographic dividend, described in the next chapter.

Where today’s young people live

The highest proportion of young people today is in poor countries, where barriers to their development and fulfilment of their potential are the highest. Poverty is the most prevalent, access to critical health care and schooling is the lowest, conflict and violence are the most frequent, and life is the hardest.

Fully 89 per cent of the world’s 10 to 24-year- olds, almost nine out of 10, live in less developed countries. That percentage is even higher among the youngest in this age range. Young people make up slightly less than one quarter of world population. In the world’s least developed countries (a United Nations category that includes 33 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, eight in Asia, six in Oceania and Haiti in the Caribbean) the age group makes up 32 per cent of the population. In the more developed countries the figure is 17 per cent. India has the world’s highest number of 10 to 24-year-olds, with 356 million—despite having a smaller population than China, which has 269 mil- lion young people. These countries are followed

by Indonesia with 67 million young, the United States with 65 million, Pakistan with 59 million, Nigeria with 57 million, Brazil with 51 million, and Bangladesh with 48 million. As proportions of both the world’s population and that of the less devel- oped countries, the young peaked at 30 per cent and 32 per cent respectively during the decade from 1975 to 1985. The proportions have been declining ever since.

Within the world’s least developed countries, the share of the population that is young crested around 2010. That share has begun declining.

It is one thing for youth’s proportion to fall in a population. It is quite another for their total numbers to decline. There are more young people in most developing countries each year. Even the more developed countries as a region are projected to be home to growing numbers of people in this age group from 2021 until the early 2030s, when their numbers will crest under the medium-fertility scenario at about 219 million. The growth trend in the numbers of young people is most pronounced in the least developed countries, where no peak at all is projected for the foreseeable future. In some sub-Saharan African countries, fertility is barely declining, while the number of women of childbearing age is rising significantly—leading to larger cohorts of young children and adolescents.

It is these countries that will struggle the hardest to assure basic health and education services, jobs and livelihoods for their young—and indeed for their still-growing populations—for decades to come.

Futures that differ markedly from the medium- fertility scenario are possible. The United Nations constructs several projections varying by assump- tions about fertility, migration and mortality rates. Under the high-fertility projection (in which fer- tility rates descend from today’s levels, but not as rapidly as in other projections), the world’s youth population would exceed 3.5 billion by the end of the century.

Agents of change and resilience

Whenever it occurs, the approaching reversal of the trend of youth population growth underlines an important point: Under all likely scenarios, the next few years or decades will witness the rise and then the cresting of the most young people ever. If the coun- tries of the world can rise to the challenge of meeting young people’s needs in this period, that challenge is likely to become easier with time in the second half of the century—at least for the world as a whole— even as total population continues to grow modestly, as currently projected.

Since young people will live longer into the future than their parents and other elders, they are more likely to face the impacts of accelerating climate change and other environmental shifts, with accom- panying risks to human well-being. The need for social resilience is likely to grow, and today’s young will need in their own adulthood to be the main agents of tomorrow’s resilience. Their resilience depends in part on whether they are healthy and educated, whether they have options and oppor- tunities in life, and whether they are fully engaged citizens whose rights are upheld. If girls and young women continue to face gender discrimination, early marriage and barriers to sexual and reproduc- tive health and rights, resilience to rapid social and environmental change will be further undermined. The question of how young people will manage

and thrive as adults, preparing the way for their own children and grandchildren, deserves attention and effort for their sake and for the sake of all of humanity.

Why some populations are more youthful

Over time it is birthrates and life expectancy in any population that largely determine the median age and proportion of young people. Migration in and out of countries also influences age structure, but in most cases, the impact is limited. Median age throughout the world closely correlates with total fertility rates (the average number of births per woman of childbearing age).

Challenging correlations

Unfortunately for the young, the ancient expression “strength in numbers” has not always held true. Economic power tends to be lowest in this age group, jobs are at entry levels or in the informal sector when hey can be found at all, and only those 18 and older typically are able to vote. Even where old enough to vote, young people tend to be less well integrated than older groups into electoral and political pro- cesses as reflected partly in their lower voter turnout.


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