UN chief urges more efforts to address challenges faced by young people

World Cannot Afford Lost Generation, Secretary-General Stresses, in Remarks Marking Fifth Anniversary of Youth, Peace and Security Agenda
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarks to the Security Council videoconference on “Youth, Peace and Security towards the fifth anniversary of the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda: Accelerating Implementation of Resolution 2250 and 2419”, in New York on 27 April.

I welcome this opportunity to present my first report on youth, peace and security.

Since this report was issued, our world has been shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people are feeling the impact acutely, from lost jobs to family stress, mental health and other hardships.

Over 1.54 billion children and youth are out of school. Young refugees, displaced persons and others caught up in conflict or disaster now face even more vulnerability. Persons with disabilities may face new hindrances in access to the services and support to which they have a right.

Even before the current crisis, young people were facing enormous challenges. The numbers are startling: one of every five young people was already not in education, training or employment; one of every four is affected by violence or conflict; and every year, 12 million girls become mothers while they themselves are still children.

These frustrations and, frankly, failures to address them by those in power today, fuel declining confidence in political establishments and institutions. And when such a cycle takes hold, it is all too easy for extremist groups to exploit the anger and despair, and the risk of radicalization climbs.

We can already see such groups taking advantage of the COVID-19 lockdowns, intensifying their efforts on social media to spread hatred and to recruit young people who may be spending more time at home and online. Yet, despite these hurdles and despite these risks, young people are still finding ways to engage, support each other, and to demand and drive change.

We see it in our battle against COVID-19. In Colombia, Ghana, Iraq and in several other countries, young peacebuilders and humanitarians are delivering supplies to front-line health workers and people in need. They are keeping communication open within communities to maintain social cohesion despite physical distancing. They are supporting my call for a global ceasefire.

We see it every week in our battle against climate change. The Fridays for Future movement continues because young people know that their prospects and aspirations are at stake. And, as illustrated in this report, we see youth engagement in their efforts to bring about lasting peace and security.

Just five years after the adoption of Security Council resolution 2250 (2015), encouraging steps are being taken to enable young people to play their essential role in building peaceful and just societies. From prevention to mediation, humanitarian assistance to post-conflict healing and reconciliation, young people are stepping up through formal and informal mechanisms and by using traditional platforms and new technologies. Many of you have taken steps to facilitate this.

In Colombia, young leaders played a critical role throughout the peace process and had a direct impact on the content of the 2016 peace agreement. In the Philippines, young women peacebuilders organized interreligious dialogues to strengthen local ownership of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. In South Sudan, young people used the online campaign #SouthSudanIsWatching to assert their rights as observers of the High-Level Revitalization Forum. In Syria, young medical students are supporting engineers to build medical supplies and teaching others with special needs through online messaging. And in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Sudan, more than 6,500 former combatants, mostly young people, have benefited from programmes supported by peacekeeping missions.

I am encouraged to see that global networks have emerged to support young peacebuilders. The African Union has begun to develop a continental framework on youth, peace and security. The Security Council meets often with young people during its country visits. The Peacebuilding Commission has provided young peacebuilders a platform to present their work and policy recommendations. Young refugees helped shape the Global Compact on Refugees. And countries including Finland, the Gambia and Nigeria are developing national road maps for youth and peace and security. The United Nations, for its part, is striving to integrate this agenda across the Organization, guided by the United Nations Youth Strategy.

Notwithstanding this progress, the youth, peace and Security agenda still faces formidable challenges. Participation opportunities remain inadequate. Many young peacebuilders report that their participation is not welcomed by the public or those in positions of power. This is especially evident for young women. Exclusion from political decision-making further increases their vulnerability to discrimination, sexual violence and exploitation, trafficking and child marriage.

Only 2.2 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians are under 30 years of age. So it is not surprising to see declining levels of turnout on the part of young voters in the world, reflecting growing dissatisfaction with political establishments. Young women and men forced from their homes owing to conflict and violence remain highly vulnerable. Reports of threats and human rights violations against young peacebuilders and human rights defenders are also of grave concern. And, behind all of this lies insufficient investment in prevention and in ensuring young people have opportunities to advance in life.

Even before COVID-19, a global learning crisis already threatened to undermine long-term prospects for development and social cohesion, in particular in conflict-affected settings. Now that crisis is multiplying, coupled with massive increases in poverty and unemployment. It is in this context that I am issuing a call to action on youth, peace and security.

First, we must do more to address these challenges, guided by the findings of the Independent Progress Study on Youth Peace and Security. Second, we must invest in young people’s participation, organizations and initiatives. The Peacebuilding Fund is an invaluable tool, and I urge you to ensure it has the resources it needs. Third, we must strengthen human rights protections and protect the civic space on which youth participation depends. And fourth, we must emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with a determination to recover better — massively increasing our investment in young people’s capacities as we deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.

Across this work, our efforts must reflect a fundamental understanding: young people are not subjects to be protected, but should be seen as citizens with equal rights, as full members of our societies, and as powerful agents for change. The world cannot afford a lost generation of youth, their lives set back by COVID-19 and their voices stifled by a lack of participation. Let us do far more to tap their talents as we tackle the pandemic and chart a recovery that leads to a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable future for all.

Thank you.