International Youth Day (IYD) is the brainchild of the United Nations, and was first celebrated on 12th August 2000, after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution accepting the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth in Lisbon in 1998. The UN uses celebrations like these to draw public awareness to problems surrounding a particular global demographic and, IYD focuses on the youth, their issues and their contributions.
The UN offers resources like promotional material, ideas for events, training material etc. through its subsidiary agencies as well as its website, for independent entities world over to celebrate the day. They also declare a theme for the year that communicates the scope, direction, and objectives of the year’s youth initiatives, such “Change Our World” for IYD 2011. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said “Youth should be given a chance to take an active part in the decision-making of local, national and global levels.” All persons between the ages of 15 and 24 qualify as the youth, and according to 2010 statistic, they constitute 18% of the global population, with 87% of international youth residing in developing countries.
International Youth Day focuses on the rights of these young people to have full access to education, adequate healthcare, employment opportunities, financial services and full participation in public life. In a climate of economic uncertainty, it is all the more important for countries to invest in opportunities for their youth to learn, earn and grow so that the common future lies in good hands. In 1985, the World Program of Action for Youth was set up to define a policy framework and guidelines for national action and international support to improve the situation of young people. It is just one of the many extensive efforts of the United Nations to help member states reach out to their youth. Along with ensuring their rights, an equally important goal of IYD is to shape the youth not just as a passive beneficiary of development efforts, but as a force for positive social change. They are a source of innovation, creativity, energy and foresight, and member states must use all means possible to foster and harness the power of the youth. These are the ideals of International Youth Day.
It is celebrated through events, seminars and programs from an international to a local level. Anyone can organize an event. Recommendations also include talking to local politicians and business-owners, so that the government, corporate and development sectors can work together for the advancement of society. Initiatives have also focused youth attention on particular issues like HIV/AIDS, and recent data from UNAIDS indicates that HIV prevalence has dropped by more than 25% among young people in 15 out of 21 countries most affected by HIV. The youth is leading the change, and International Youth Day ensures that they have the ability, skill, motivation and recognition to continue to do so.
The theme of International Youth Day 2015 is “Youth Civic Engagement.” The engagement and participation of youth is essential to achieve sustainable human development. Yet often the opportunities for youth to engage politically, economically and socially are low or non-existent.
More efforts are needed to raise awareness about the importance of youth civic engagement and its benefits to the individual and to society, including for sustainable development as well as resilience and wellbeing. The International Youth Day 2015 campaign aims at promoting civic engagement and participation of youth in politics and public life, so that young people can be empowered and bring a full contribution to society, development and peace.
The Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, led by the co-chairs, DESA and UNDP, is running an online campaign in the lead up to International Youth Day 12 August 2015. The campaign will open up a space for young people to share their stories and ideas on civic engagement activities. Young people will be able to share their message by submitting a photograph that relates to the theme, by tweeting ideas and opinions on the theme using #YouthDay, or by organizing an International Youth Day Event.