The World Conference on Youth - 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka

The World Conference on Youth – 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka

                     UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL (ECOSOC) FORUM ON YOUTH - 2014: "#Youth2015: Realizing the Future They Want”

Statement by Hon. Dullas Alahapperuma, Minister of Youth and Skills Development, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

The World Conference on Youth - 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates and
Youth Representatives,

It is with great pride and immense pleasure that I address you today. Sri Lanka has recently had the honor and privilege of hosting the World Conference on Youth 2014. A first, not only for my country, but for all of Asia. In every sense, I am pleased to announce that the conference was a success, bridging the many gaps between aspiration and reality that we as humans strive to achieve for ourselves and the reality of our daily lives. Ministers, other policy makers, the UN system, the youth and civil society, all contributed to achieve this result for our common future.

Planning, definition of themes and organizing of the Conference  was entirely youth-led, which received the  support from the government. The International Youth Task Force, which spear-headed the process, set a very high standard and was a model for policymakers.

We were honoured by the presence of the President of the General Assembly, H.E. Dr. John Ashe, and the Secretary General's Envoy on youth Mr. Ahamed Alhendawi in Colombo. The conference was attended by over 1,500 participants, mostly youth delegates, and civil society. Following intense deliberations, the conference produced the "Colombo Declaration on Youth", which is a milestone of which, we as Sri Lankan's are most proud, to have been an integral part.

We take pride in the fact that, for the first time in the history of youth assemblies commencing in 1930s, we were able to produce a document, a sort of Magna Carta, jointly endorsed by the young participants and policymakers, which would give enormous encouragent to our younger generation to forge ahead towards a brighter future. Their voices would now make an impact on policy formulation.

It is indeed satisfying that there are 88 significant recommendations and 9 core commitments in the Declaration.

We are pleased to acknowledge the statement of understanding lodged by several countries that their participation in the consensus would take into account their domestic laws, customs, practices and religious norms.

There are still many challenges which impede the inclusive participation of young people in global and national policy making, and incorporating the full potential behind national development efforts. In the modern world, youth are playing an increasingly active role in social mobilization and actively engaging in setting the economic, social and political agendas of their countries. The Colombo Declaration accepts that youth participation at the community, local, national, regional and global levels should be a strong factor in all current and future development initiatives. The inclusion of youth and recognizing their concerns and aspirations in the negotiation of the post-2015 development agenda must be an integral part of our work in the agenda on youth at the UN.

Excellencies, Friends,

A major issue discussed at the Conference was the problem of youth unemployment, under-employment, vulnerable employment and informal employment. The conference set out to address these issues through a range of recommended mechanisms. These include enhanced job creation, entrepreneurship incentives, more liberal access to education and training and through promoting skills development. It was emphasized that creating an enabling business environment and multi-stakeholder partnerships, including between developed and developing countries, would further strengthen the efforts to address issues related to youth employment. Skills development, including ICT, was emphasized.

The Colombo Declaration stressed the need to promote quantitative and qualitative targets on youth employment in the post-2015 development agenda. In this regard the declaration also called on the UN to support a dedicated day for skills development that would benefit the global youth.

Excellencies, Friends,

Realizing equal access to quality education was underlined as an important pre-requisite to addressing issues relating to youth employment. The Colombo Declaration called for free and universal early childhood, primary, and secondary education, based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination, and ensuring equal and equitable access to education at all levels. In Sri Lanka, we are encouraging better access to qualified teachers and education, both formal and informal, as well as vocational training and high quality, safe, inclusive and supportive learning environments for all children and young people, including girls. Sri Lanka has consistently provided government funded education in state schools in all areas of the country. We enjoy one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

The importance of enhancing the infrastructure of modern technology was also centrally addressed in the Declaration. In a world that is governed by smart phones and laptops, it has become essential that youth the globe over have access and equal opportunity to learn the skills required to allow them equal participation in global developments. Therefore, the establishment of inter and intra-regional youth innovation and technology centers is integral in preparing the youth of the world for the future.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

A major issue plaguing the world’s youth in developed and developing countries alike is maintaining a healthy lifestyle and access to quality health care. With the growing number of fast food opportunities and readily and cheaply available, the youth of today are more susceptible to a range of non-communicable diseases. Other common health problems countries are facing are maternal health issues, HIV/AIDS, mental health issues, injuries and drug and substance abuse, including alcohol.

The Colombo declaration called on the Member States to promote a healthy lifestyle and take steps towards a sustainable framework for health financing. It called for adolescent and youth friendly services that are accessible and affordable. Importance was also attached to lowering the price of essential drugs in order to ensure access to medicine.

The Declaration has recognized the vital role that youth can play in shaping the world's consumption and production patterns by promoting sustainable lifestyles, which is essential for the environment pillar of sustainable development.

 Excellencies, Friends,

It has become vividly apparent that achieving gender equality is an essential component in a rapidly changing world. Women are increasingly involved in the decision making processes across the globe. But, there is more to be done. This has given rise to the pressing need to promote gender equity amongst our youth to end structural causes of inequality, including discriminatory social norms, practices and gender stereotyping that promote inequality between the sexes. The Declaration urges Member States to develop strategies and policies to prevent all forms of violence against women, harmful traditional practices and early and coerced marriages. Ensuring equal participation of young women at all levels in the decision making processes and equal pay for work of equal value was also stressed upon.

Furthermore, the Declaration proposed to the UN General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals a set of targets relating to young women and girls.

The Colombo Declaration on Youth also discusses and urges Member States to promote equal opportunities for all to eliminate any form of discrimination against young people. It also recognizes the importance in the role that young people play in conflict prevention, peace building, conflict resolution, post conflict reconciliation and reconstruction effort. This has particularly been true of Sri Lanka. The post-conflict era in my country has been dominated by the youth of the country. They have played a significant role in shaping the country’s future by participating in the decision-making process in the political, economic, cultural and environmental spheres.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

The participants at the World Conference on Youth, through the Declaration, resolved to continue the ongoing discussions within the framework of the UN General Assembly on the effective implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth, as well as strengthening mechanisms of coordination within the UN system to support global, regional, and national policies and programs for youth. It further encouraged the establishment of a permanent youth department within the United Nations with representation in member countries to support and follow up local youth programs.

The Declaration has recognized the special development concerns of the youth in least developed countries, small island developing states and other countries with special development needs.

As government officials, policy makers and adults we need to ensure our youth are equipped with the right tools to create a better future for themselves and those who follow. We must also involve them as we develop our policy framework. Sri Lanka, as the incumbent Chair of the Commonwealth and the Group of 15, will continue to mobilize support in mainstreaming youth aspirations in the agendae of these bodies.

We all suffered a great loss last week. A great human being left us. She was the renowned American author and poet Maya Angelou. I would like to end my statement with one of her most famous quotes. She said, "it is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength."

In the world we face many differences. But I believe, if our youth can put aside those differences and accept diversity, they can change this world and make it a better place for all of us. In this fast changing now, even from this moment and you will make a better world. Because, like the great Maya Angelou said, diversity is beautiful and it is strong. Just as you are my friends.

I thank you Mr. President.

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