Friday, July 18, 2014

Youth: Today’s Best Investment

By Naomi Kitahara
UNFPA representative

As Mongolia celebrated Naadam on July 11th, the global community celebrated World Population Day, this year dedicated to the theme of “Investing in Youth.” Over 25 percent of the world’s population is between the ages of 15 and 25: the largest youth population in history. For Mongolia, nearly 50 percent of the population is under the age of 25.

Adolescents and youth are central to Mongolia’s development agenda, representing a vast population cohort and a demographic dividend capable of driving Mongolia’s development for years to come, but with a major caveat – investment. Investing in youth builds a society where everybody can claim their rights and maximize their opportunities to contribute to Mongolia’s development. Investing in youth is not an option, but it is a necessity. Youth is a period of transition, where choices and opportunities determine their future, dramatically impacting families, communities, society and the development of Mongolia.

Key fact #1: worldwide, more than 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year. In Mongolia, the adolescent birth rate is rising, recording in 2013 the highest level in the past 15 years, 33 births per 1,000 adolescents. Early pregnancy threatens the health of mothers and their children – the risk of maternal death is up to 50 percent greater for adolescent mothers than for older women. It is the leading cause of death among adolescent girls. For those who survive, early pregnancy disrupts girls’ education, impairing their life chances, professional development, and economic opportunities.

Key fact #2: globally, young people are almost three times more likely than adults to be unemployed. In Mongolia, the unemployment rate, as of 2010, for adolescents was approximately 31 percent. This can and must change – in Mongolia, 80 percent of undergraduates study a major in business administration, economics and law, yet labor demand is highest in mining-related industries such as engineering and construction. Education must equip youth with appropriate skills to gain employment.

Key fact #3: this generation of young people is the most inter-connected in history. Despite rural-urban, economic and other disparities, an impressive 72.9 percent of Mongolian youth access the internet. This is a golden opportunity for education, economic and social development, an opportunity that must be maximized.
The main question is how can we improve the situation for youth in Mongolia? First and foremost, policy-making must be supportive, prioritizing and meeting the needs of adolescents and youth. Ongoing Government efforts to revise the population policy and develop a youth policy and adolescent health policy are a good start. Policy is one thing, but implementation is critical for genuinely improving the lives of youth. Youth-supportive policy in other sectors and ministries is also vital. Effective policy demands young people’s participation: contributing to policy development and decision-making in a meaningful, influential way.

Beyond policy, young people’s formal and informal education must go beyond technical skills, providing life skills, such as understanding health and gender issues, communicating effectively and making sound decisions. This is what youth need not just for employability, but to make critical choices in daily life. Finally, investing in youth requires targeted, accessible social services, particularly youth-friendly health services, giving them the opportunity to determine their own life paths.

Mongolian youth have expectations – higher than the generations before them – for a fulfilling life, freedom, and opportunities. They want their human rights upheld, and they want to be influencing decisions that affect their lives – “nothing about us without us.” Investing in youth supports young people to be productive and dynamic, enhancing their lives and the lives of those around them – parents, siblings, children and all of society. This is what will drive Mongolia’s development for years to come.

We all must be united in placing young people at the heart of Mongolian and global development efforts.

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