UN Youth Conference Pays Lip Service to Youth Concerns

By Nicholas Dunn

NEW YORK (C-FAM)   When a young person attending this week’s UN Youth Conference stood to ask a question and identified himself with a pro-life NGO, the moderator of the side event informed him that the panel was not interested in hearing his perspective. Such disinterest in discussion with youth characterized the closing meeting for the UN’s International Year of Youth, themed “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding.”

Weeks before the conference, organizers forced NGOs to limit themselves to sending five young people, despite the fact that many young people had already received their confirmation letter and made travel arrangements. A representative from the UN Program for Youth told the Friday Fax that because over 1,200 young people had registered for the conference, conference planners had to limit attendance and participation due to a lack of space and security reasons.

On the first morning of the conference, many young people showed up to register, confirmation letters in hand, only to be turned away. What is worse, the hall of the General Assembly was empty for most of the conference. Many of the young people who attended the conference were puzzled at the lack of attendance and participation from youth. In his opening address, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon asked those in attendance whether more could be done for youth. His question was met with a resounding “yes” from the crowd. Yet many felt as if the UN was merely paying lip service to youth.

Often, moderators of side events allowed no time for interaction between the panelists and the young people in the crowd. In one side event on the subject of HIV/AIDS, entitled “Crossfire: a dialogue between young leaders and policy decision-makers,” five young people were pre-selected and given scripted questions. At many meetings, only ministers and heads of state spoke, while the youth in attendance listened.

Of the youth issues that were discussed at the conference, most concerned the “sexual and reproductive health and rights” (SRHR) agenda. UNFPA sponsored nine side events, many of which focused on promoting young people’s “sexual rights,” such as comprehensive sex education, the abolition of parental consent laws, as well as contraception and the decriminalization of abortion.

When SRHR advocates were confronted with questions from conservative and pro-life young people, they simply ignored them. At a meeting sponsored by Y-PEER, the youth arm of UNFPA, a young person in attendance cited data from the World Health Organization (WHO), which shows a 190% increased risk of breast cancer in women who use oral contraceptives for at least two years before the age of twenty-five. Panelists reacted with frustration at his use of statistics and discredited the information.

In stark contrast to the SRHR agenda promoted by UN officials at the conference was the overwhelming presence of pro-life and pro-family young people. The International Youth Coalition (IYc), formed at last year’s World Youth Conference in Leon, Mexico, issued a “Statement of Youth to the U.N. and the World,” which was presented to the UN General Assembly during a high level thematic panel discussion.

Nicholas Dunn writes for C-FAM. This article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (http://www.c-fam.org/). This article appears with permission.

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