‘Junior 8’ delegates present youth concerns in historic meeting with G8 leaders

© G8 Summit/2006
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President George W. Bush at the G8 meeting with Junior 8 delegates, including Tatyana Ushakova (left) of Russia and Diana Perez (right) of the United States.

By John Varoli

PUSHKIN, Russia, 17 July 2006 – History was made yesterday at Konstantin Palace in the St. Petersburg suburb of Strelno, when delegates from the ‘Junior 8’ Youth Forum met with their nations’ leaders gathered in Russia for the G8 summit.

Following a year of preparations and a week of intensive work here finalizing their recommendations, youth delegates representing each G8 country sat down with the heads of state for a 40-minute discussion on HIV, education, tolerance and violence, and energy security.

“When we first had this idea after the Group of Eight meeting last year, our best hope was just to get our foot in the door with five minutes,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Russia, Carel de Rooy. “We never expected that G8 leaders would spend 40 minutes with the youth.”

Representatives chosen by delegations

The day began with all 64 youth delegates travelling from their forum in the town of Pushkin to the Palace of Congresses complex built on the ruins of an 18th century czarist palace.

Only eight representatives, chosen by each national delegation, were allowed to meet with leaders in the palace’s ornate hall. The remaining delegates watched via closed-circuit television in the complex’s press center. The session was also carried live on national Russian TV.

© G8 Summit/2006
The scene in the ornate hall of the Palace of Congresses complex where G8 leaders met with youth delegates for 40 minutes in 16 July.

When the G8 leaders entered the hall, the Junior 8 delegates all shook their hands. After a photo-op, the doors were closed and the young people took their seats next to their respective leaders.

After brief welcoming remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Junior 8 delegates took the floor to present their views to G8 leaders.

Youth delegates speak out

Canadian delegate Kristina Abretti spoke first, focusing on aid to education in the developing world – with suggestions that included free education for all, teacher training, more international exchanges and a global development fund.

US delegate Diana Perez, addressing the issue of infectious diseases, called for more international research, education and more HIV prevention programmes.

French delegate Xavier Attwell added a call for measures to end the stigma associated with HIV. He noted that the world has the means to eliminate other deadly infectious diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, but determination and financing are needed to finish the job.

Italian delegate Elena delle Site spoke of the need for energy security, especially the need for environmentally sound and renewable energy sources.

© G8 Summit/2006
Junior 8 youth delegates take questions at a news conference following their meeting with G8 leaders outside St. Petersburg.

German delegate Janusch Krasberg, presented youth views on violence and intolerance, urging the G8 to set up a body that would monitor and enforce conventions on children’s rights.

Russian delegate Tatyana Ushakova ended the youth presentations with a call for education to foster the values of tolerance and respect.

“We feel the intellectual and moral energy of your work,” concluded Mr. Putin, wrapping up the session. “It’s precisely with the input of youth that we’ll solve the problems facing us.’’

‘I’m sure they’ll listen’

While the J8 delegates were clearly excited about meeting their leaders and being heard, most later admitted to pre-event jitters. “I was nervous, but I was very happy to express my opinion to my leader,” said Japanese delegate Muneo Saito at a press conference after the meeting.

The delegates who couldn’t attend the G8 meeting said they were satisfied with the results.

“I liked that the leaders appeared to take us seriously, and were listening attentively and taking notes,” observed UK delegate James Goodall. “Children are not usually listened to, but I think they will take some of our ideas and use them.”

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.



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17 July 2006: UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on the conclusion of the Junior 8 Youth Forum in Russia and the youth delegates’ meeting with G8 leaders.
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