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Young people push policymakers for action at world’s largest forum for adolescents

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New Delhi: The world’s largest online meeting of adolescents and young people, the Global Forum for Adolescents, closed today with a sweeping set of new commitments from governments and other stakeholders.

The Global Forum, 11-12 October 2023, was organized by PMNCH – the world’s largest alliance for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health – to galvanize attention to the needs and priorities of adolescents and young people around the world. The Forum closed today with the launch of the “Agenda for Action for Adolescents”, based on the opinions of 1.2 million young people ages 16-24, collected in more than 80 countries through the What Young People Want (WYPW) initiative, the world’s largest survey of young people.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1.5 million adolescents and youth died in 2021, averaging 4,500 deaths every day from preventable causes. Leading causes include road traffic accidents and interpersonal violence, while mental health disorders represent a rising concern for well-being. Many young people struggle to access sexual health and family planning services, risking unplanned pregnancies. Substance use, child marriage, nutritional status (under and over nutrition) and injuries are other major concerns.

“This is the time for political commitment to new policies, more resources and increased funding overall. We need more data to drive those commitments and clear indicators on adolescent well-being to track progress,” said the Rt. Hon. Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Board Chair of PMNCH. “All young people everywhere must have a fair chance to contribute to their own countries and to the world and, above all, to pursue their dreams.”

The Agenda for Action for Adolescents seeks to highlight the need for far-greater action. It is based on seven main advocacy asks, including more and higher quality education and skills training; more adolescent-friendly health services; greater support for mental well-being; and more prevention of stigma and discrimination, including greater provision of comprehensive sexuality education.

“Adolescents and young people have specific health and well-being challenges often overlooked in policy and investment,” said Sahil Tandon of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, co-lead of the drafting team for the Agenda for Action for Adolescents, and a member of the PMNCH Adolescent and Youth Constituency. “In fact, less than 1.6% of development assistance for health was dedicated to adolescent health between 2003 and 2015, even though there are 1.8 billion people between 10 and 24 in the world today,” said Mr. Tandon. “The Agenda for Action is intended to galvanize attention to where it is needed most, and to align all partners in addressing these needs.”

The Global Forum also served as a launching pad for a new health and education strategy developed by the African Union, recognizing the key role that young people play in shaping the economic and social future of the continent. More than 1 billion (1.46b) people live in Africa, half (735 million) of whom are under the age of 20 (source). More than half of these commitments address the call for more vocational training and secondary/third-level education, mirroring the main priority identified by 1.2m adolescents and youth worldwide through the What Young People Want effort, launched by PMNCH earlier this year. Other pledges focus on providing affordable, high-quality adolescent health and well-being services and strengthening the agency of adolescents and youth.

“As a young person, I want my leader to prioritize the health and well-being of youth. I wish for them to actively listen to our voices and concerns, ensuring that our opinions are considered in policies and programs that affect us,” said Saksham Parimal, a young mobilizer for the 1.8 Billion Young People for Change campaign and a policy engagement Fellow at the YP Foundation in Bihar, India. “I seek opportunities to have a say in decisions that shape our lives and those of our fellow youth. It’s essential that our leader/government fulfils the promises they have made to young people, creating a supportive environment that enables us to thrive and reach our full potential. I believe that by investing in the health and well-being of young people, we can build a stronger and brighter future for our nation,” he said.

The Global Forum for Adolescents attracted more than 8,000 registrants over two days. Participants, including policymakers and young people, shared evidence, lived experience, and proven examples of effective policy and programming solutions. Forum sessions covered the full spectrum of challenges and opportunities experienced by young people growing up in today’s world, including the need for greater attention to adolescent well-being in schools, combating violence to foster safe spaces, and creating safety for digital natives. The Forum also saw the launch of advocacy tools, research products, innovation materials and key data to support advocacy for greater investment and commitment.

“Listening to young people helps governments to learn from our experiences and identify new ways to help us,” said Alims Blessing Iripa, 22, a youth activist from Nigeria who mobilized responses for the What Young People Want initiative. “Investing in young people’s health and well-being today will pay off in the future,” she said.

Produced under the umbrella of the “1.8 Billion Young People for Change” campaign, the Global Forum for Adolescents is a key milestone in a multi-year advocacy drive led by the 1,400 partner-organizations of PMNCH and others. PMNCH has been working with young people over several years, exploring what they most want and need for their well-being, and putting their top concerns in front of decision-makers with power to ignite change.

In addition to governments, many private sector and non-state organizations have also made pledges to Adolescent Well-Being. During the Clinton Global Initiative forum in September 2023, Fondation Botnar of Switzerland pledged USD$45 million to create safe online environments for young people, enhance civic engagement and make cities safe. Surgo Health, Pivotal Ventures, and MTV Entertainment Studios announced the creation of a Youth Mental Health Tracker. Ferring International pledged to prevent maternal deaths from postpartum hemorrhage and protect the lives of 20 million women and their families by 2030. Other organizations that made commitments include the Born This Way Foundation, Generation Unlimited, UNICEF, the FIA Foundation, The Wellbeing Foundation Africa, Goleadoras Foundation, One Earth and Mariwala Health Initiative

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