What we owe our youth | Heraldo Muñoz
16 Oct 2012
Today we kick off a three-day meeting in Mexico City to boost the involvement of young people in politics in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 30 youth organizations, young leaders and governmental counterparts will participate.
This is a crucial issue—and not only in Latin America. Almost half the world's population is under 25 and more than one third is aged 12-24. This fact, along with social and economic inequality among youth expressed in recent social movements like the Arab Spring, Spain’s 15M, Mexico’s YoSoy132 movement and the student protests in Chile reaffirm the need to address the young generation’s demands and recognize young people’s critical role in promoting social change.
Of the 600 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean more than 26 percent are aged 15-29. This is a unique opportunity for the region’s development and for its present and future governance.
The UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Reports have shown that young people have enormous potential as agents of change. But despite Latin America’s remarkable progress in reducing poverty and inequality—and its strides toward strong democracies with free and transparent elections—income, gender, ethnic origin, or dwelling conditions are all decisive barriers to young citizens’ rights.
One in every four young people aged 15-29 in the region are poor or extremely poor. And only 35 percent have access to education. More worrying still: Some 20 million young Latin Americans aged 15-18 neither work nor study. That’s nearly one in every five, 54 percent of them female and 46 percent male.
Many young people are exposed to tremendous risk and violence. The region comprises less than nine percent of the world's population but accounts for 27 percent of its homicides, UNDP has found. As a result, public perceptions of the young are distorted. Those from low-income communities in particular are seen as potentially violent, morally weak and frequent substance abusers.
Over the next three days in Mexico we will discuss what governments, civil society, and the UN are doing to boost political inclusion of young people in the region. We will also discuss the promise of technology and social networks, including platforms linked to UNDP, whose Virtual School has trained numerous young men and women in the region, notably those of African or indigenous descent, on political inclusion.
The region needs to promote youth political participation. We owe this to the generations of young Latin Americans who have the privilege of living in democratic societies.
Talk to us: What steps can be taken to encourage young people’s involvement in politics?