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The Commission on Population and Development focuses on the Rights of Adolescents and Youth

arton3855According to a report of the Secretary-General, there are currently 1.8 billion youth (between the ages of 10 and 24) worldwide today; of these, almost ninety per cent live in developing countries. This age group formed the focus of the 45th Session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD), held from 23-27 April 2012 at UN Headquarters in New York. The session also considered trends and analyses in population programmes, financial resources, and progress on the implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, all with special focus on this rapidly-expanding and significant age group.

The Commission was chaired by Ambassador Hasan Kleib of Indonesia; Martina Tezak Budicis (Croatia) served as Vice-Chair and Rapporteur; Sergio Rodrigues dos Santos (Brazil), William Awinador-Kanyirige (Ghana), and Pio Wennubst (Switzerland) (who also chaired the informal consultations) served as vice-chairs. During the Opening Session on 23 April, Mr. Kleib called upon governments to provide health services, education, opportunities for decent work, and freedom of choice for their adolescent and youth populations. He also highlighted the need for a collective redoubling of efforts to implement the goals and objectives of the ICPD, particularly in light of the General Assembly’s December 2010 decision to extend the ICPD Programme of Action Beyond 2014. He welcomed the presence of so many young people in the Commission.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the first SG to address the CPD in recent memory, also commented favourably on the presence of so many young people, as well as the active participation of non-governmental organizations in the Commission, as over 500 NGO representatives were approved to attend. Focusing on several recent global events where youth has been involved in “shaping history,” from the “Arab Spring” to the Occupy movement, the Secretary-General emphasized the potential and the contributions of this generation of youth, the largest in history. To ensure that this potential and hope is reached, youth need food, jobs, and healthcare, especially reproductive healthcare, he continued. In the context of the Cairo (ICPD) Programme of Action (PoA), which he framed as “one of our most important internationally agreed paths to a better future for the world’s youth,” Mr. Ban urged the provision of information and services for adolescents and youth, as part of the overarching objective of providing a safe, secure, and healthy environment for all.

On behalf of the President of the General Assembly Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Marjon Kamara, acting President of the GA, made a statement that emphasized the relevance of population trends in relation to both adolescents and youth worldwide, and the theme of the Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) of ECOSOC, which will take place this July. Ms. Kamara stressed that the ICPD PoA delineates the importance of promoting young people’s opportunities and well-being, including through access to reproductive health information, and care. Twenty years after its induction, in 2014, the 69th session of the General Assembly will convene a special session to assess implementation and renew political support for the achievement of the ICPD’s goals and objectives. Exhorting the Commission to exercise its leadership in furthering the rights of adolescents and youth, Ms. Kamara framed the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”) as a reminder of the key position population dynamics play in relation to sustainability.

Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Jomo Kwame Sundaram began his remarks, which he made on behalf of Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, by highlighting the linkages between population trends, economic development, and poverty eradication. Also referring to the timeliness of Rio+20, Mr. Jomo recommended the full integration of population concerns into development strategies, as the ICPD PoA forms a “crucial underpinning of efforts to reach internationally agreed development goals.” Regarding specific objectives suggested by the CPD, he listed the following ways forward: supporting adolescent girls to continue education, thereby reducing incentives for early marriage and childbearing; programming on sex education and HIV prevention to provide youth with the knowledge necessary to engage in responsible sexual and reproductive behavior; providing family planning and broader sexual and reproductive health services as part of the healthcare package offered to adolescents and youth; and fostering decent work especially for young people to alleviate the poverty and unemployment at the root of many social problems.

Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Babatunde Osetimehin outlined his organization’s global work with youth, along with its system-wide activities with WHO, UNAIDS, UNDP, UN Women, and major civil society organizations to ensure on-the-ground success. Technology is an essential aspect of this work; Mr. Osetimehin stated, “The nexus between technology and youth is expanding our ability to raise awareness on sexual and reproductive health and rights.” This awareness, he continued, “can spell the difference between life and death.” UNFPA’s aims under Mr. Osetimehin include ensuring the incorporation of youth perspectives in global actions to reduce poverty; mainstreaming population dynamics into development work and the post-2015 development agenda; and supporting a comprehensive sexuality agenda focused on human rights, conflict resolution, and equality.

The Commission featured three keynote speakers: Andrew Mason, Professor of Economics at the University of Hawaii, whose presentation focused on demographic trends and the economic roles of adolescents and youth; Shireen Jejeebhoy of Population Council, who underscored the importance of implementing commitments to ensure the sexual and reproductive health, education, and protection of adolescents and youth; and George Patton, Professor of Adolescent Health Research at the University of Melbourne, who addressed the promise and potential of adolescent youth health. Additionally, two youth representatives - Angga Dwi Martha of Indonesia and Souadou Ndoye of Senegal - shared their stories with the Commission and called for their inclusion and recognition as strategic partners in the decision-making that affects them.

During the discussion, several non-governmental organizations made statements. Among them, a representative from Advocates for Youth called on governments to recognize young people’s “right to evidence-and rights-based comprehensive sexuality education,” while Family Care International added that youth must be involved in the creation of policies and programmes that affect them as well as in the broader agenda for development. International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) also referred to the rights of young people and emphasized the need for information, education, and service provision to ensure that young people can make informed decisions about their sexual lives, health, and well-being. World Youth Alliance stressed that young people are the greatest resources for development, and Soroptomist International highlighted the unique position of young women and girls, advocating all stakeholders to realize their commitments towards gender equality.

The official process was accompanied by a number of “side events,” on topics including youth with disabilities, the effects of migration on youth, HIV prevention among youth, education for social change, the role of data, comprehensive sexuality education, and Member State-hosted exposés of national experiences.

Among these, the UNFPA “Youth Speak Out” featured youth representatives from Mexico, the UK, Nepal, and Ghana, as well as introductions by Mr. Osetimehin and the Netherlands Deputy Director of the Social Development Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Applying a human rights framework to issues of young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, the event underscored the importance of the ICPD PoA and the need for youth-specific health services, including contraception and comprehensive sexuality education. Given the global challenges for development and the unprecedented number of today’s youth, participants called for inclusive processes, the use of social media, and the articulation of linkages between youth rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Another event, hosted by UNFPA and the World Health Organization (WHO) on the following day, featured speakers from Family Care International, IPPF, and Norad - the Norwegian agency for development, along with population experts, UN officials, and two youth representatives, Oriana Lopez Uripe from Mexico and Chantal Umuhoza from Rwanda. In this changing world, noted Amy Boldosser of Family Care International, social media and other modes of youth participation are essential to processes of political change; political and economic resistance abounds, however, to recognizing the agency of young people. Ms. Lopez and Ms. Umuhoza supported these remarks by calling for comprehensive sexuality education and youth implementation of services and programmes. Adrienne Germaine, 2012 UN Population Award winner, echoed this call, while IPPF’s Doortje Braeken emphasized the need for partnerships to address worldwide needs for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

At the closing session of the CPD, held during the afternoon and evening of 27 April, several draft decisions and a draft resolution were adopted. Draft decisions included a request that the consideration of the Secretary-General’s biennial report on world demographic trends be analyzed in even-numbered years, and an agreement to convene a special session during the 69th session of the General Assembly to assess the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action.

After six full days of deliberations and a last-minute amendment, the draft resolution Adolescents and Youthwas passed. It urged Member States to increase efforts to improve the quality of and access to education, including comprehensive sexuality education, along with the reproductive health services (including family planning) and information needs of youth and adolescents. It recognized the need to ensure access of adolescents to appropriate services and information, while simultaneously acknowledging the rights of parents and legal guardians to provide guidance. Calling upon States to adopt and implement laws against early marriage and female genital mutilation, the resolution also addressed the need for improved opportunities to decent work and productive employment for young people. The resolution contained no programme budget implications.

The Commission on Population and Development concluded its 45th session by adopting the draft report of the session and the draft provisional agenda for the 46th session.

A full list of the commission’s documentation, including the report of the Bureau on its intersessional meetings, introductory statements, draft decisions adopted, and statements from non-governmental organizations can be found on the Commission’s webpage.

The Commission, which was created in 1946 as the “Population Commission” and expanded in 1994 to monitor and assess the implementation of the ICPD PoA, assesses and advises ECOSOC on population and related development policies and programmes and the integration of strategies on these two fields. 47 Member States comprise the Commission, each elected by ECOSOC for a period of four years.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.

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