Youth population of 1.8 billion opportunity to ‘transform countries’

Nearly 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday by 2020

The large number of young people living in today’s world has been said to present an opportunity to accelerate economic growth for decades to come. Photograph: Alan Betson

The large number of young people living in today’s world has been said to present an opportunity to accelerate economic growth for decades to come. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Every day 39,000 girls under 18 years will become child brides, while 36 per cent of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence, according to the 2014 State of the World Population report.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report, released today, reveals that 1.8 billion young people aged between 10 and 24 are living in the world today, up from 721 million young people in 1950.

Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell said the report was “unequivocal” in its findings. “If young people, especially young women, have access to education and health – including sexual and reproductive health – they can reach their capabilities and transform their countries,” she said, speaking at the report’s launch.

The UN report warns that many young people remain out of work and says the “global youth employment crisis” is worsening. Globally, 73.4 million youths between 15 and 24 were unemployed in 2013.

Young women around the world continue to face numerous human rights violations, including female genital mutilation, sexual violence, child marriage and access to contraception and safe abortion care.

More thanthree million girls in Africa are at risk of female genital mutilation every year, with an estimated 100 million-140 million girls worldwide having undergone the procedure.

Millions of young girls continue to face child marriage and, if trends continue, 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday by 2020.

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According to the WHO, 36 per cent of women have experienced intimate-partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner, while almost 40 per cent of female adult sex workers are reported to have begun selling sex when they were 16 or younger.

The report found many young women still have trouble accessing contraception and often face barriers in seeking safe abortion or post-abortion care. Younger women are also more likely to wait before seeking an abortion, and may use an unskilled abortion provider or dangerous methods to self-abort.

The report also warns that lowering the age of consent interferes with a young person’s ability to freely make decisions about their sexual health.

Dr Mona Kaidbey, deputy director of the UNFPA technical division, said lifting the ban on contraception in Ireland in 1979 and further improvements in sex education from 1985 were critical for the State.

She also said the large number of young women and men living in today’s world presents an opportunity to accelerate economic growth for decades to come.

“This is a very special window of opportunity, never before have we had such a large cohort of young people,” Dr Kaidbey said. “It presents a great opportunity that we’re never going to see again, particularly for countries that are still very youthful.”

“If we act now, we can produce a workforce that is well-trained, well-educated, well-equipped to lead and transform countries.”

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Sean Sherlock highlighted Ireland’s role in promoting gender equality, saying that Irish development cooperation must be used to “maximise the potential of young people”.

He said the report was “particularly timely” as the UN prepares for the post-2015 sustainable development goals, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals.

Ireland is in a “powerful position” having been appointed by the UN, with Kenya, to lead international negotiations on the new development targets for 2030, he added.

“There’s a key role for Ireland to play in chairing, with Kenya, the key challenges, and gender equality has to be one of those challenges.”