The commemoration of International Youth Day on 12 August every year is an opportunity to remember the role the young people play in effecting change around the world. It is an opportunity to raise awareness about some of the issues that specifically affect young people; how they can be solved by world leaders; and to encourage young people to take bold steps as change agents.
This year’s International Youth Day theme, “Transforming Education” highlights efforts to make education more inclusive and accessible for all young people.
According to the United Nations, there are currently 1.8 billion young people (10–24) in the world, the largest group of young people in global history. More than a half of 6–14-year olds lack basic reading and mathematics skills despite most of them attending school.
Access to inclusive and quality education is critical to achieving Sustainable Development Goals, including Ending AIDS. According to UNAIDS, in 2018 there were 2 200 000 young people living with HIV in eastern and southern Africa.
The need to target young people with necessary education and information about HIV and sexual and reproductive health services has been recognized by leaders in the eastern and southern African region.
In 2013, under the leadership of UNAIDS and with the support of ESA’s regional economic communities East African Community and Southern Africa Development Community, the UN initiated a process that aimed to develop and implement a commitment on the needs and rights of young people. The initiative has now expanded to include core UN partners and civil society organizations from across the ESA region.
The commitment has brought together both education and health sector, policy makers and young people to collaborate and strengthen sexual and reproductive health and rights. The endorsed commitment has an accountability clause that binds the countries to deliver on certain targets in 2015 and in 2020.
In this commitment, the ESA ministers of Education, Health, Gender, and Youth and senior government officials committed to accelerate efforts to ensure adolescents’ and young people’s access to good quality comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), and sexual & reproductive health services that appeal to young people. This includes working with young people, parents, civil society and community and religious leaders to in order to achieve the goals.
The implementation of this commitment has shown progress in transforming education as many in ESA countries have since made efforts to include the comprehensive sexuality education as part of their curriculum, including building capacity for teachers and community organization educators in order to effectively disseminate the information.
CSE is particularly important because it ensures that young people have access to information about HIV prevention, treatment and care, including sexual and reproductive health rights.
However gaps still exist as UNAIDS data shows that young people remains vulnerable to the AIDS epidemic. The new HIV infections amongst young people are not reducing sufficiently, in 2018 alone there 800 000 new HIV infections among young people.
The transformation of education needs to be accelerated in order to not only meet the 2020 targets, which amongst others include eliminating all new HIV infections among adolescents and young people aged 10–24, but to also ensure that education is beneficial to the socio-economic status of young people and can afford them opportunities to live their lives fully, with freedom and without difficulties.