The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) received today in a special meeting held at its headquarters in Washington, DC, the preliminary findings of the Youth Conference of the Americas, which this year focused its discussion on the topic "Youth in Action."
The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, highlighted that attention to the needs of youth are among the priorities of the Organization, and recalled that the agencies of the institution have mandated on numerous occasions that this segment of the population should be a priority in their plans and policy programs. "This issue has to be understood in a cross-sectional manner," he said, adding "on the main issues we address, such as development and employment, we put special emphasis on youth unemployment in all our countries."
Secretary General Insulza noted that education is one of the major social issues in the region. On this issue, he said that "the quality of education and updating our programs so that they are at the level of the modern world is a key issue," and warned that in the majority of international standardized tests the youth of the region -both in developing and developed countries- receive mediocre results.
Moreover, the OAS leader said that in analyzing the issues affecting youth, we must consider that evils like drugs and crime affect them in greater measure. "Unfortunately, drug use among young people is much higher than in any other age group, and they are also the age group that commits more crimes, while at the same time they are the main victims of crime," he said.
The Secretary General noted that Latin America and the Caribbean have a "demographic bonus" over the next two decades due to the fact that the young population in the region is larger than the population at retirement age, but stressed that this does not mean that the benefits of this population pyramid are automatic. "This constitutes great potential as long as young people are being educated and are working productively, because otherwise the demographic bonus could become a problem if the region still has one in four young people who neither study nor work," he said.
In this context, Insulza called on authorities in the region to visualize the extent of the challenge posed by the reality of having a large youth population, which demands to benefit from the public policies of governments, and argued that dialogues such as that represented by the Youth Conference represent a contribution in the search for answers.
The Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, said that the aim of the Youth Conference of the Americas, which this year celebrated its second edition, is to discuss the challenges and opportunities of this sector of the population in the Western Hemisphere. In the Conference held today, he said, nearly 150 young people took part, as government officials, leaders of civil society and private sector representatives.
Ambassador Ramdin explained that the conference discussed two issues: first, the responsible use of technology, democracy and privacy in today's world; and second, the young game changers who make a difference with a focus on democracy and entrepreneurship. "We had a very rich debate, but certainly the discussion is not over because we have an ongoing process," added Ramdin.
The First Lady of Panama, Marta Linares de Martinelli, focused her address on the policies of her government to treat autism as a way to provide greater future opportunities for young people. The First Lady spoke of the founding of the Ann Sullivan Center in her country, dedicated to children and youth with autism and other conditions, and said it is the first in the world to provide free assistance to this sector of the population.
"Autism is a neurological disorder characterized by deficits in social behavior," said the First Lady, adding that one study indicates that one in 88 births is within the autism spectrum." In this context, the Panamanian First Lady said the region and the world must recognize the equal rights of people with disabilities, who have "the right to be educated to be productive and be happy.”
The Chair of the Permanent Council and Representative of Peru, Walter Albán, said that some 534 million people less than 34 years old live in the Western Hemisphere. "The challenges we face are many and varied, from equal access to opportunities to access to education and employment," said the Peruvian diplomat. The Chair of the Council reaffirmed the commitment of the hemispheric institution to the youth of the region, because "despite the enormous challenges it faces, the OAS believes in the power and potential strength that exists within this sector of the population."
Edgar Mestre, a young Colombian who has lived in Panama for several years, presented a report on the issues discussed in the virtual forum of the Youth Conference of the Americas, which took place beginning on October 1 and which received one hundred contributions. Mestre said that, in order to interact with the young people of the region, three channels were used, each with a different moderator; the first channel was the virtual community platform of the Summit of the Americas; the second was the Google platform; and the third channel used were the social networks of the OAS.
Among the challenges and demands set forth in the virtual forum, Mestre emphasized that there is little measurement of employment program; there is a need for more sponsorship of SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), because in some countries they account for 90 to 95 percent of employment generation; there is a lack of youth policy programs, especially in rural areas; and there is a need for more information on tertiary programs in the period of transition from secondary education to higher education.
As part of the preparatory work for the Conference, the OAS called on government institutions at the local and national level in member states to submit examples and proposals for government practices related to youth participation in public policy development. Canadian Anna Vichnevetskaia reported that since August 14 proposals were received from 13 countries in the region, adding that the deadline for submitting proposals has been extended until December 15.
During the meeting, the representatives of the delegations of Mexico, Paraguay, the United States, Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago (on behalf of CARICOM), Suriname, Venezuela, Canada, Chile, Bolivia, Panama, Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador took the floor.
The Youth Conference of the Americas is an event that brings together youth organizations, students and stakeholders from across America to exchange views with business and government representatives on issues affecting the 534 million young people living in the Hemisphere. The 2012 Conference was held under the theme "Youth in Action for Democracy and Entrepreneurship."
A gallery of photos of the event is available here.
The video of the event is available here.
The audio of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.