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Message on International Day of Youth by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director

12 August 2010

Today, on the International Day of Youth, and every day, young people are searching for opportunities to pursue and fulfill their dreams. The world's more than 1.8 billion people aged 10 to 24 yearn for a world where they have the knowledge, skills and opportunities to develop to their fullest potential.

While many people say that youth are the future, it is time to embrace their leadership today. Young people are natural leaders. They are leading the HIV prevention revolution-with prevalence rates falling among youth in 15 of the 21 African countries most affected by AIDS.  They are leading the use of new technology to network, create and speak out for change. They are challenging traditional gender roles and paving the way for equity and equality in the 21stcentury.

But while there is promise, there is also peril. Today, more than half of young people survive on less than two dollars a day, living in poverty. Some 100 million adolescents don't attend school. Every year, 15 million adolescent girls become mothers. And 40per cent of all new HIV infections occur among young people aged 15-24. In all regions of the world, youth unemployment is high, and many fall victims to exploitation and violence.

The sad truth is that too many young people are growing up with few opportunities, trying to keep up hope for the future. Young people, especially adolescent girls, continue to be marginalized and suffer human rights violations. As we commemorate the International Youth Day, it is time to renew efforts to make young people a priority.

At UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, we are promoting the participation and leadership of young people.  We are promoting life-skills education and universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, and HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for young people. And we are working to empower young women, including adolescent girls, and to prevent gender-based violence.

Today, as we launch the International Year of Youth, on the eve of the World Youth Conference in Mexico, I am calling on decision makers to listen to the needs of young people and respond to them. I call on governments to enter meaningful dialogue with young people to develop a mutual understanding on how to jointly address the development challenges facing us. Let us enter a partnership across generations to fulfill the promise of the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals to create a more peaceful and just world.