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Ethiopia, 21 April 2011: African adolescents gather to review progress on youth development

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Mwangi
Adolescents at the pre-summit on youth in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia illustrated the frequent lack of understanding among some teachers of the challenges faced by adolescent girls.

‘The State of the World’s Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,’ UNICEF’s new flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents’ fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination. Here is one of the stories.

By Anthony Mwangi

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 21 April 2011 – About 300 adolescents from across Africa and the diaspora gathered at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, earlier this month to review progress made by African governments in implementing youth initiatives.

The nine-day pre-summit on youth – ‘Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development’ – was held in anticipation of the African Union summit, which runs from 23-30 June 2011 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

Focus on youth development

The pre-summit comprised three key events and drew participants between the ages of 15 and 35 years old from national youth councils, youth networks, UN agencies and civil society organisations. About 62 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of 35.

The first event, from 1-2 April, focused on financing youth development and explored ways to influence decision-making at the highest level through a lively exchange with parliamentarians and policy makers.

During the second – the African Youth Forum, held from 4-6 April – adolescents expressed their wishes and aspirations for the future. This was followed by Bureau of the Conference of Ministers of Youth on 8-9 April.

Throughout the sessions, youths advocated for close involvement in the development agenda of Africa, effective participation in debates and decision-making processes, and the placing of adolescents at the heart of development policies and practices.

The Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology of the African Union Commission, Jean-Pierre Onvehoun Ezin, agreed to the need for full involvement of youth in the development process, and underlined the importance of quality education to reach that goal.

Investment for the future

His view was echoed by the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Abdoulie Janneh, who said young people presented great opportunities for development, “if appropriate investments in human capital are made to equip the youth with the right skills.”

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Mwangi
At the close of the African Youth Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, adolescents sang about promoting peace, harmony and unity.

Adolescents face a number of challenges including trafficking and displacement, child labour, and the threat of becoming child soldiers. Young people are most at risk and vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. In addition, female genital mutilation (FGM), child and early marriage, sexual violence and domestic servitude are abuses estimated to affect a large number of adolescents.

“We need to invest considerably in children and adolescent development, as this yields greater social wellbeing and meaningful participation of youth in sustainable development for generations to come,” said Akila Belembaogo, UNICEF Representative to the African Union and UNECA, during the forum.

“The failure to invest in adolescents will have severe consequences on the future ability of youth to be competitive and productive citizens,” added Ms. Belembaogo.

'Meaningful involvement’

UNICEF helped adolescents attend the pre-summit, and once there some gave presentations to spotlight issues.

Shaban Ahmed from Uganda raised the need to eliminate mother-to-child-transmission (EMTC) of HIV while Caroline Barebwoha, also from Uganda, noted that, “participation of adolescents was not about attending key meetings, but about meaningful involvement in policy dialogues and development initiatives at all levels.”

The AUC, UNICEF and UNESCO jointly addressed more actively involving adolescents in the African Union’s Second Decade of Education for Africa programme, with Sibeso Luswata of the UNICEF Ethiopia Country Office outlining the salient features of quality basic education for all.

During the forum, a UNICEF session on adolescents involved short skits to highlight issues, which elicited lively reactions. UNICEF also supported the participation of delegates from Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Burkina Faso and Morocco.

Blueprint for development

At the end of the pre-summit, participants produced an outcome document, which contained recommendations on youth empowerment and sustainable development.

It will be reviewed by the Permanent Representatives' Committee, then by the Executive Council of Ministers of the African Union, for final endorsement by the Heads of State and Government during the African Union summit in late June. More than 100 adolescents will also be attending, to further push for progress in fulfilling commitments to youth.



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