By Charlotte Tucker, VOFAIR's Content Team Manager, researcher and writer
- Why is Youth Volunteering important?
Young people make up a quarter of the world’s population, the highest number in history. We are 1.8 billion strong and are a significant part of our global society. This month VOFAIR’s topic is YOUTH. We often hear too little about youth, in our local communities and in international development. I would like to shift this focus back on young people and inspire people to think a little deeper about this significant group of people. Young people are undeniably a strong part of our global community, so what kind of group are they? Do they share any common characteristics that cross borders, and what kind of issues do they face? Are they a group that could be further mobilised to volunteer themselves, and if so, what kind of impact could they have on the world by volunteering not just for other young people, but for the entire global population?
- Who are ‘young people’?
Although each country has their own individual definitions, the UN characterises young people as “persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years” . Young people today across the world are a unique generation: they are living a new kind of youth, different to that of their parents’ and grandparents’ and are connected by new medias and technologies like never before. According to an international youth survey conducted by the UN, and contrary to popular belief, young people are not alienated, antagonistic or rebellious; they are forward thinking, community minded and look towards the future. Young people are shaping and changing the social norms and values of their countries, and want more opportunities to participate in society. Despite wishing to be active and contribute to their communities, young people face problems that deny them the opportunities that they need to fulfill their potential- and this is especially true for girls . From staying alive to receiving an education, these problems are shared across borders, whether young people live in developed or developing countries.
- What issues affect young people?
Young people are affected by a range of issues, from health and education difficulties, to violence and conflict. Indisputably, girls are most negatively affected by these issues. For girls, the period of adolescence is an accelerating trajectory into a life of inequality.
1. Health Everyday 7000 young people become infected with HIV: Young people aged 15-24 account for 60% of new HIV infections. Young women are more than twice as likely to be infected with HIV than young men of the same age. Complications related to pregnancy, child birth and unsafe abortion are the leading global cause of death for young women aged 15-19 years. Right now all round the world many young women aged 15-19 are pregnant or have already given birth, with the likelihood of this being greater in poorer rural areas. Girls are pressured or forced into child or adolescent marriage, putting them at higher risk of such health complications. Female genital mutilation procedures are carried out on young girls and adolescents across the world. More than 125 million women and girls alive today have been cut. Long-term complications of this practice involve infections, cysts, infertility, child birth complications and death. At least 20% of all young people will experience mental health problems. The UN state that depression is one of the leading causes of death, illness or disability for young men and women, and that youth suicide is increasing. Alcohol use and smoking are also prominent issues for young people. According to UN statistics, 50% regular smokers who start smoking as a young person will die from tobacco. In the US, alcohol is the substance most commonly related to young person deaths.
2. Education and employment In developing countries, where 85% of young people live, only a fraction of young people get a secondary education. Around 22% of boys and 14% of girls go on to receive a secondary education . Again, we see a gender gap: as a result, two thirds of the one billion adults who are illiterate are women. Youth unemployment is also a big issue for young people. In 2009 the UN noted that there was the highest incidence of youth unemployment , with 81 million young people unemployed. Young people that are employed are more exposed to informal and insecure work, are prone to working longer hours, and are more exposed to poverty than other age groups.
3. Violence and Conflict The UN state that around 300,000 adolescents are fighting in armed conflicts in more than thirty countries worldwide. Whilst sexual violence affects women in particular, war and conflict is a leading cause of death and injury for young men. Road traffic accidents are the cause of death for 1000 young people a day.
- Volunteering for young people?
This August, youth volunteers in Iran posted their selfies online as part of the international #showyourselfie campaign. Fighting for more attention to be paid to young people in international development programmes, the #showyourselfie campaign has gone global. “Youth are the capital of Iran”, said one volunteer, “We’re filled with energy, and we are ready to make positive change” . Many people have recognised that young people are not included in major development initiatives, despite youth being an important stage of life. Experiencing rapid changes that decipher our path from dependent child to independent adult, youth is an important period which not only affects our lives in the present, but irreversibly determines the rest of our lives as adults. We already know that young people are politically active, community minded and want the best for themselves and their communities. If more young people could be freed of the obligations of poverty, bad health, and inequality and experience development themselves, they could be an incredible development force for the rest of the world. Armed with energy, determination and a predisposition towards globalisation and new technologies, the power behind this group moving into adulthood would be a catalyst for development worldwide.
To #showyourselfie and sign a visual petition for youth to be on the agenda for the UN’s next Millenium Development Goals, go to http://showyourselfie.org/ To be a Global Citizen and be part of an online movement to end global poverty by 2030 by sharing, liking and supporting global poverty campaigns, go to http://www.globalcitizen.org To find out how you can volunteer fairly and choose the right volunteer position, read our article on the hidden problems of orphanage volunteering and look at our verified volunteer projects. To become a UN Youth Delegate, go to: http://unyouth.com