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UN: International Year of Youth

Volume 726: debated on Monday 4 April 2011

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking in the United Nations International Year of Youth to support young people in the challenges they face, especially in developing countries.

My Lords, my passion for the well-being and meaningful engagement of young people has deep roots. From my days as a director of Bolton Lads and Girls Club, through my various shadow ministerial roles in education, health, women, children, schools and families, and internationally as a trustee of two charities, I have taken a keen interest in how we develop the enormous potential of young people alongside an aspiration to see a much better life for so many of them. I declare my interests as a trustee of UNICEF UK and of the Disability Partnership.

The United Nations International Year of Youth has served as a timely reminder of the significant importance of young people in the world today. I do not intend speaking about the role of youth in the UK, as this is a vast and important subject on its own, and I know that it will be expertly covered by other noble Lords. Can I just say that I am most grateful to all noble Lords for taking part? It is indeed a glittering cast in today’s debate. I will focus on young people living in the developing world, where 87 per cent of the world's youth live.

The UN International Year of Youth was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, and calls upon Governments, the United Nations and civil society to recognise the contributions that young people make to society and to address the challenges they face. The specific theme of the International Year of Youth is dialogue and mutual understanding, providing an important opportunity to increase commitment to youth, promote youth participation and enhance intercultural dialogue and understanding among young people. The International Year of Youth runs from August 2010, and the progress achieved during the year will lay the foundation for further work in youth development, including the implementation of the world programme of action for youth and contributions to meeting the millennium development goals.

The facts are stark, and for help with this debate I must express my gratitude for the invaluable briefing papers provided by Restless Development on behalf of the DfID civil society organisations youth working group, a network of over 30 civil society organisations and young people that are working to demonstrate the essential role of youth in international development and, at the same time, helping DfID work more effectively with, and for, young people. I am, as always, hugely indebted to and enormously proud of UNICEF.

The demographic reality is this: 87 per cent of young people live in developing countries, 60 per cent of Africa's population are youth, and, altogether, 1.3 billion young people make up the largest ever youth group in history. These numbers themselves need updating following the Indian census announced last week, which indicated another 100 million to be added to that country's population, all of whom are or will become young people.

Whilst young people make up 25 per cent of the working population, they account for 47 per cent of the unemployed and are three times more likely to be unemployed than other adults. One-third of the world's poor—the majority being children and young people—live in conflict-affected and fragile states. There is statistical evidence of a connection between high relative youth populations and risk of conflict when young people are not engaged in a meaningful way in their lives and communities. The youth literacy rate for conflict-affected countries is 79 per cent, compared with 93 per cent for other developing countries. UNESCO estimates that 98 per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school, and 99 per cent of girls with disabilities are illiterate. Many development issues disproportionately affect young people; seven out of 10 young people live in poverty, with adolescent girls representing a large percentage of maternal mortality risk. Four in every 10 of new HIV infections occur among those aged 15 to 24. The list goes on.

If this were not enough, there is what I can only describe as a tsunami—an emotive word, which I use with care—on the horizon. Today the world’s population is 6.9 billion; over the next generation it will rise to over 9 billion. The vast majority of these additional people will be born in the developing world, challenging already desperately challenged communities. Where will the extra schools, jobs, healthcare and support for these young people come from? What vision do we have for this coming generation? What hope?

For me, the message is clear: young people represent a largely untapped asset in development. If we do not engage them meaningfully in development, we will fail not only to realise our international goals and commitments but, more importantly, we will fail them. The UN initiative helps us to focus on this important issue.

What can be done and what can the role of our Government be? Here I pay tribute to the leadership of my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development. It has required foresight and considerable courage, particularly in difficult economic times, to resist the pressure to go back on our international commitment to increase our aid spending to meet the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2013.

I also pay tribute to the previous Government. DfID has rightly achieved a leadership role within the international development community and in the field of youth. It has also shown some excellent initiatives, of which I shall name but a few: the prioritisation of girls and women in DfID’s business planning, most notably around maternal health; the current DfID programme partnership arrangement, which now includes a consortium focused on working with and for youth; and the recent launch of the international citizen service initiative, providing opportunities for British young people to work alongside peers in developing countries to address important local issues while also learning new skills. These are positive steps, but we can do more.

In countries where DfID has a full-time office, the average percentage of the population under the age of 25 is over 55 per cent. This means that if we are to be successful in our development efforts we must focus our attention more on the needs of this demographic group. One practical and relatively low-cost step that DfID could take to ensure that programmes are age sensitive and responsive to the needs of young people would be to disaggregate performance and impact data by age. Applying a youth lens would enable DfID to measure the impact of its work on young people so that resources can be better focused and interventions are evidence based. This would enable us to see whether our efforts are meeting the needs of young people appropriately.

As the International Year of Youth reminds us, it is crucial not only to address the challenges that the youth of the world face but to recognise the contributions they can make to society. This more asset-based approach, recognising that young people are often the most readily available asset in the poorest countries in the world, leads us to two additional simple steps that we can take. The first step is to promote youth-focused and youth-led development among international and multilateral agencies and international fora. I know that President Obama has stated very eloquently his desire to support young people and perhaps this is something that Her Majesty’s Government could specifically support when the president visits the UK in May, or at the G8 which follows in Paris in the same month. The second step is to create a network of youth champions within DfID. Through regular and meaningful engagement with young people and youth-focused agencies, DfID’s staff could better understand youth concerns and the potential for youth-led development interventions and be able to champion them to senior policy makers at world development agencies. We have pursued this with great success at UNICEF UK.

I am delighted that this debate is being supported by noble Lords across the political spectrum because this fundamental issue affects us all. I heard from the Library that this is the first ever debate we have had on youth and international development. We only have to cast our eyes towards the recent events in north Africa, the Middle East, the Gulf and Côte d'Ivoire to recognise the potency of young people when faced with the alternatives of hopelessness or change. The speed of developments has been breathtaking and the risks of ignoring them are self-evident.

The positive benefits of grasping the opportunity and capturing the energy and idealism of young people are clear for all to see. When President Obama addressed young Africans last autumn, he said:

“Africa's future belongs to its young people … once again, Africa finds itself at a moment of extraordinary promise … it will be up to you, young people full of talent and imagination, to build the Africa for the next 50 years”.

In today’s debate, we extend to young people the world over that positive message of hope and opportunity.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for making it possible for us to have this debate. What she just said about this being the first debate of its type that the Library can find says everything, yet, to look at it the other way, the notion that we should address this problem and solve it is also utterly self-evident. I declare an interest as the former president of UNICEF UK and as chancellor of the Open University, which I will come on to in a moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, did not mention that she is an utterly invaluable trustee of UNICEF. As someone who I would like to think helped to persuade her to take up the role, I say that it was one of the best day’s work I ever did.

I will not add to any of the horrifying statistics, which are all utterly self-evident. When I was young, there was a charismatic civil rights leader called Eldridge Cleaver who famously said that you are either part of the solution or simply part of the problem. My judgment, certainly from my work at UNICEF, is that young people around the world want to be part of the solution. The truth is that we cannot afford the luxury of not allowing them to be.

If I had a wish list, it would be to take Members of the Committee on just two visits. One would be to get all of your Lordships to a graduation ceremony at the Open University, because there you would see what hope is. These are not graduation ceremonies in the normal sense but triumphs of individual ambition and commitment. I have always believed that, if I could get sufficient parliamentarians to graduation ceremonies, all of my other problems at the OU would be solved immediately. The other, a lot less celebratory, would be to take parliamentarians on a number of the trips that I made to a dozen countries during my year and a half with UNICEF—it was almost two years—looking into the effects and issues surrounding sex trafficking, which is at the other end of the emotional universe.

A million young people a year get sold into either abusive under age labour situations or sex trafficking. It is a global scandal. The UN has taken it seriously and the police in this country have certainly begun to take it seriously, yet it goes on and on. The figures and the apparent appetite do not diminish. It is the only time in my life when I was truly ashamed to be a man. These problems have to be addressed by men and solved by men once and for all. I find it very difficult to deal with the idea that we should live with these problems.

Every now and then, I am helped by dipping my toes back into the world of cinema. Last November, I chaired the jury at the annual Asia Pacific film awards in Australia where, in a period of just nine days, I watched 31 of the most remarkable movies to have emerged from that large and increasingly significant region in just the past year. Rightly or wrongly, I would argue that film makers are particularly good at sniffing out the social and cultural zeitgeist, resulting in what we then refer to as trends. One overwhelming trend that emerged from watching those movies, from 15 different countries, was what I can only describe as intergenerational alienation. The young no longer trust us to do right by them. As a result, they have a serious problem believing many things that we say. Whether we say them in Parliament, in the media or wherever, they are simply ceasing to believe us because, as they increasingly see it, we have stolen their pensions, their food and water security, their future job prospects and their environment.

Precisely the same intergenerational alienation is largely driving the uprisings we have been watching in the Arab world in recent months. That is little wonder, when you look at the mind-numbing numbers of unemployed young people in that region. It is a form of alienation that is given a voice by technology but whose roots run far deeper. When you add to that Wikileaks, it seems to prove that this new and increasingly sceptical generation is right in the suspicion that the dominant players in the political and commercial world have forgotten how to play with a straight bat.

There are those who claim that the intergenerational world has always been typified by suspicion and mutual misunderstanding, to which my response is that never before in history have we been living in each other’s pockets to the same degree—both metaphorically and in reality—aware that a crisis in one part of the world has the capacity to utterly overwhelm those living elsewhere. We are asking young people around the world to switch on their television sets, no matter where they are, to see how the first world lives. They watch programmes about the lives of the rich and famous, so it is little wonder that they look at us and wonder whether we are mad or have lost all sense of imagination about what injustice might mean. The realities and challenges facing today's young people are not those of the 19th or even the late 20th century; the truth is that we may not yet have woken up to the fact but literally millions of young people have, and they do not much like what they see. I find it impossible to blame them.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords—I am very sorry to have to do this in such a key debate with so many speakers—that the debate is strictly time-limited and when the clock reaches four minutes, you have had your four minutes. We want the Minister to have an opportunity to reply to everyone.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton for giving us this opportunity to debate this subject. I declare an interest as a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Street Children and as a trustee of one large organisation UNICEF, in common with my noble friend, and of one small charity CMAP.

In the International Year of Youth, I want to highlight a particular category of youth, which is street children. They are very hard to define because they may live on the street, or they may have a home and only go to the street sporadically, or they may live at home and work on the street. The best definition is that they are children for whom the street is the main focus and main point of reference in their lives. By itself, that brings many challenges, dangers and issues. In every country we need to face that, recognise it and resolve it. Societies in any of these countries cannot solve the issues for children but they need to solve the issues with children. What makes street children quite different is that in most countries—including, I am afraid, our own—we often try to solve issues for the children without properly allowing them to participate in the solutions.

What drives these children and young people on to the streets does not vary much from country to country. Whether the country is the UK, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia or Indonesia, some common threads run through the causes, including violence at home and the presence of alcoholic or drug-using parents, which may lead to violence. However, some things are different. In her introduction the noble Baroness mentioned war, which is a major cause, as are land seizures for one reason or another, or migration from rural to urban areas, which is an increasing phenomenon. In itself poverty does not seem to be an automatic trigger.

For the first time ever, in this International Year of Youth one day—12 April—has been devoted to street children. In the UK, that day will be led by the Consortium for Street Children, which has 60 members, including large NGOs like Save the Children, Plan UK and War Child, and many smaller ones like Toy Box, ICT or International Planned Parenthood Federation. They work away in some 130 countries. For the first time, in many of those countries this international day for street children will mark the lives of street children and will celebrate the fact that they exist and need rights. There will be street parties in Honduras, sleep-outs in Ireland and children in Morocco, Uganda, Guatemala and many other countries will highlight the day.

What in particular needs to be highlighted? The fact is that public servants and authority still really do not recognise that street children have rights like other children whose parents stand up for them. There has been some really good practice. In El Salvador, the social inclusion unit is training public servants in street child rights. In Ethiopia, there has been police training on how to deal with street children in a way that suitably recognises their rights. At the recent UN General Assembly on 24 March in Geneva, there was a very welcome resolution by the UNHCR to expand and affirm this area. So there is much good work going on. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell us which DfID policies are specifically geared to enable street children to realise their rights.

My Lords, I, too, would like to begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, for securing this debate and introducing it with such conviction and clarity. I agree with what she has said.

The International Year of Youth is an opportunity to place young people at the heart of our international policy and to promote international development that is responsive to the needs of young people and involves them in planning processes in a very meaningful way. It is equally important that this is done by working with and influencing international agencies and those working in the international arena. One such forum is the Commonwealth—and I should perhaps state at this stage that I am a president of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The Commonwealth is a much undervalued voluntary association of 54 countries that work together towards the goals in democracy and development. It also has a vibrant not-for-profit sector. The Government would do well if they were to work with and through the Commonwealth.

Young people have long been at the heart of the Commonwealth. There are over 1 billion young people in the Commonwealth, and those under 30 years old make up to 60 per cent of the population. As such a significant group, young people are crucial to the strategies to achieve sustainable development. At a time of dramatic technological changes and some of the grave problems facing us, we should work to mainstream their involvement.

There are a number of initiatives within the Commonwealth which are worth drawing to the attention of the House and the Government. These projects, I believe, can be replicated and lessons learnt from them can be incorporated into future strategies and policies. The first example is about engagement of young people in democratic processes. Through a network of regional youth caucuses, young people contribute to high-level Commonwealth ministerial meetings and to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and have their say on the big issues such as education, environment, equality and empowerment. Young people also contribute to election observance missions, when international teams of experts help to ensure that voting is conducted in a free and fair manner.

The theme of dialogue and mutual understanding is a natural fit for a diverse association like the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council has run inspirational two-way intercultural exchanges that have exposed young people to new ideas and helped to build life-long friendships. The value of such exchanges was summed up by one participant as follows:

“Peace and understanding cannot be obtained from a book. You have to venture out and touch other nations”.

This sentiment permeates another Commonwealth initiative called Nkabom, the Royal Commonwealth Society's youth leadership programme, which unites 18 to 25 year-olds from all over the globe to learn first-hand about conflict resolution through exposure to practical projects, meetings with leaders and hands-on learning. Even for the youngest Commonwealth citizens, there are opportunities to reflect on the world and their central role in it. The RCS reaches 50,000 school students annually with its essay, film and photography competitions. These competitions provide a real insight into their world view and their ideas for the future.

These few examples show that, given an opportunity, these young people can make an enormous contribution. They can become active and engaged citizens. Young people are our future. Investment in their education and training and in their engagement in finding solutions is essential and prudent. The consequences of a lack of investment were well put by the World Bank report, which said:

“Given the cumulative nature of human developments, underinvestments in children and youth are difficult to reverse later in life, and the price for society is high”.

I very much hope that this year will act as a catalyst in encouraging Her Majesty’s Government to make a step change which can be sustained beyond one year. The issue of youth is too important to restrict to one year. I very much look forward to hearing what steps are being taken with regard to mainstream policies affecting young people and working with international agencies—in particular, the Commonwealth.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, on securing this debate. It is not often that we get the chance to debate issues of this nature. First, I should declare the interest of the many organisations for which I act as a trustee. The three that are relevant to this debate are the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Voluntary Service Overseas. I am on the international board of VSO, which is an enormous privilege.

Inevitably, the priorities in much of the developing world are different from ours. Among many policy-makers in this country, the ageing society is talked about as one of the greatest challenges that we face, with questions of how to adapt our public services and so on to meet the needs of that ageing society. However, in the developing world, the absolute opposite is true. I have had the opportunity to go to several countries in Africa. The challenge faced in Sierra Leone is the number of young people involved in the war who have lost their parents and become incredibly emotionally damaged. The question is how to deal with the sheer number of such children and how to find meaningful work and activities for them. I visited Tanzania to work with an education organisation which is working to improve quality in primary education. It has done remarkably well in increasing the number of children going to primary school, and we congratulate it on achieving much of the millennium development goal on education. However, many girls are being taken out of school to do domestic work and so on.

I could go on but I want to talk specifically about the role of the International Citizen Service—the new programme being introduced by the Government that will begin later this year. Potentially, it can play a very important role in development and particularly in providing opportunities for young people, not only in this country but in developing countries, and I hope that the Government proceed with ICS in this manner. This new initiative will be run in this country by six specialist development organisations led by VSO. All six agencies are currently working in development, using volunteers as their main instruments. It is very important that these agencies’ primary concern is development through volunteering, rather than simply giving people from this country a good experience.

More than most in this Committee, I can give testament to the value of volunteering for individuals in this country. It changed my life; the most important two years in my life were the two that I spent in Kenya. However, that is not enough; we have to approach this with the vision of development. VSO will do it through youth exchange, involving young people from the developing world as much as young people from this country. I urge the Government to keep faith with development and not to be tempted to turn this into what some might call gap-year tourism. It is not that. It needs to be a significant experience in development for children and young people in the developing world. I hope that the Government will learn from VSO about how to do this.

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate, not least because it has been initiated by my noble and long-time friend Lady Morris of Bolton. We heard previously in Committee about her drive to initiate such a debate. It comes as no surprise to me, knowing her as I do, that she should seek to do so.

As all noble Lords were young once, we can perceive what young people desire. Perhaps I may take a few moments for personal reflection. For a long period before entering your Lordships’ House I was involved with a youth association. Indeed, I had the privilege of leading that association for 15 or 16 years in various capacities from sports secretary to culture secretary, to vice-president and charity secretary. That taught me a great deal. This is—following on from the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong—about going from cradle to grave. It is not just about doing something for one bit of your life, learning about things which impact on children and young people; it is, as I learnt, something that one can engage in throughout one's life. It is about harnessing what is important in society and what role you can play.

I remember learning various skills in those early years, such as organisational skills, motivational skills, leadership skills and financial skills. That allowed me to pick up skills which complemented what I learnt in school. These domestic-focused activities—sometimes organising charity walks, or organising feeding for the homeless—instilled in me what we often talk about across your Lordships’ House and the other place: the values that we all wish to instil in our young people. The answer is in these community projects, in youth work.

I remember being engaged in an international sphere during the tragic war in the Balkans. I travelled out there and—despite the devastation, the genocide and the horrors—I was inspired and moulded by the experience. I found inspiration in the young people of all communities from within the Balkans who said, “Yes, we have nothing, but we have our lives and we can start again tomorrow”. My experience of working at home and abroad with charitable organisations such as Save the Children and Humanity First has instilled in me the importance of focusing on youth projects as we build stronger and more cohesive communities. It is important, as I have seen in places as diverse as Ghana and Sierra Leone, to empower young people. What they can do with computer skills is one example. Bringing young people together in the pursuit of common goals instils in them the need to work together and shows them the importance of learning from each other to develop themselves. I therefore welcome the Government’s drive to encourage youth development, including through the national citizen service, which broadens the minds of young people by giving them wider experiences.

In closing I would ask the Minister to tell the Committee the specific policies and funding that are in place or planned for the future to facilitate young people, through schools and voluntary organisations, so that they can learn from and contribute to the Government's big society initiative within the UK and in the developing world.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, on providing this opportunity to focus on young people, particularly in developing countries. It is a timely topic. Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history. Like the noble Baroness, I was stunned by the latest figures. Over 3 billion people, nearly half of the world's population, are under the age of 25, and 90 per cent of them are in developing countries. As many noble Lords have mentioned, girls and boys represent a large proportion of the population in countries that are fragile or affected by conflict. These countries are also likely to be most vulnerable in the face of environmental stress.

In 2000, world leaders established the millennium development goals to achieve, over 15 years, a set of global targets that seek to reduce poverty and promote development. The UK’s Department for International Development has made the achievement of these goals a central strategic objective. Last year, the House of Commons International Development Committee reviewed DfID’s achievements and found that there had been notable progress towards reaching several goals, including those focusing on child mortality and primary education. However, other goals are seriously off-track, including improved gender equality.

I am proud of the previous Government’s commitment and achievement in these areas, and it is clear that the coalition Government have the same commitment—for example, by showing leadership in focusing on women and children's health, as they did at the UN summit last September. However, huge challenges remain. It has been pointed out that many of the millennium targets are based on pretty low thresholds. Even if all the goals are achieved by 2015, many millions of people will remain in dire poverty and lack access to basic needs such as sanitation or basic educational opportunities.

I want to echo the words of Graça Machel, speaking at a UNESCO world conference two years ago, when she asked:

“How can it be that in 2009 we still have tens of millions of primary school-age children across the world who are not in school? … After all these years, why do we continue to have such marked gender inequality in educational access and outcomes for girls?”.

In my brief remarks, I want to emphasise the importance and value for money of DfID focusing its resources on basic education and, in particular, on educating girls. I follow my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top in mentioning Voluntary Service Overseas in this context. I hope that the Minister will share my pleasure, as life vice-president of VSO, that DfID continues its staunch support of VSO's excellent multilayered approach in education.

Of course it is not just a question of pumping in aid money. A blog on DfID's website stressed that it means tackling inequality, corruption and weak institutions, quoting an example in Nigeria—which I have seen at first hand—where there is a huge, underutilised government universal basic education fund and, at the same time, the largest number of out-of-school children in the world.

Nevertheless, all the evidence shows that basic education is one of the most cost-effective development interventions; and this is not just for the child. It aids economic growth, helps prevent HIV, improves health and prevents conflict. UNESCO’s data show that girls' education lowers infant and child mortality rates, reduces fertility rates and promotes per capita income growth. Each additional year of education completed by a mother translates into her children remaining longer at school

So, education works. Yet Oxfam has estimated that there is a $20 billion shortfall in the $50 billion promised at Gleneagles in 2005. As Oxfam says, this

“is more than enough to get a seat in the classroom for each of the 72 million children who are currently out of school worldwide”.

UNESCO has estimated that the global Education for All programme has a financing gap of $16 billion a year. So perhaps I can end by asking the Minister what the UK Government will do to help bridge this gap.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a long-term supporter and now patron of Restless Development, the international youth-led development agency. I am also an advisory board member of the Global Poverty Project, the aim of which, through education and training, is to increase the number and effectiveness of people taking action so that we will see a world without extreme poverty within a generation.

I have two or three simple messages. First, I have an abhorrence of waste. Whether it is wasting money, food, electricity, water or even wasting time, I cannot abide it in my own life or in society generally. The statistics set out so clearly by my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton incensed me. We talk glibly about a waste of natural resources in our world, yet the waste of so many hundreds of millions of young lives—a so-called lost generation whose potential is unfilled through no fault of their own—is rarely mentioned. Young people are human beings; they are also assets and potentially the most valuable resource in our world today. They have ideas, they have energy and they deserve a future.

By investing in these young people we have the opportunity to break entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity. There is an undeniable economic case for investing in children and youth today. As UNICEF’s 2011 The State of the World’s Children report states:

“The economic and social progress of nations depends upon harnessing the potential, energy and skills of these young people”.

A recent World Bank report says, specific to Uganda,

“if girls with only a primary education finished secondary school, over their working lives they would contribute economic benefits to their country equivalent to one-third of current year GDP”.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, said, educated girls are less likely to marry early and less likely to become pregnant as teenagers. They are also more likely to understand the benefits of nutrition and to have healthy children when they become mothers. They are also more likely then to send those children to school.

What can be done and what can we do? I would like to talk briefly about my experience with Restless Development, having seen at first hand its commitment to working with and through young people in Zambia. Its approach is to train young national volunteers to teach in their schools and communities. Increasingly, it is also working to get Governments and international agencies to recognise that to achieve sustainable success in poverty reduction it is essential to meaningfully engage young people in the process. As I visited several schools in outlying communities in the back of beyond, I was struck by the potency of training young Zambians to provide peer education on livelihoods, leadership and sexual and reproductive health. Messages which older teachers and parents would struggle to get across were readily accepted. I was inspired, too, by the other consequence of training peer educators—that they themselves became young leaders who in due course would go into communities as role models.

I mentioned earlier my abhorrence of waste and my commitment to highlighting the needs of poor young people. As part of this—I hope noble Lords will forgive this advertorial—I will be participating in the Live Below the Line campaign championed by Christian Aid, Restless Development, the Salvation Army and other charities. This will involve me and—I am delighted to note—the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and a number of other colleagues from the House, including the Lord Speaker, living for five days on £1 a day for food and drink. Again, like the International Year of Youth, the aim is to put a spotlight on the lives of 1.4 billion people, half of them young people, who live off this meagre amount every day of their lives.

We all have a responsibility to raise public awareness on this issue and to help those who are working to bring about change. One thing that struck me from my time in Zambia was that whatever poverty young Zambians endured, there is no poverty of ambition. A lesson, perhaps, for some in this country.

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, for initiating this debate and for calling, as other noble Lords have done, for greater emphasis and a stronger focus on measures intended substantially to increase the participation and the quality of life of young people. The actions and the desired outcomes we have discussed here today, as noble Lords have shown, make absolute and infinite sense.

Young people have potentially a huge contribution to make because of their experience and understanding, which they can add to global efforts to meet the millennium development goals and to fight against inequality and discrimination. There has, quite rightly, been substantial investment in young children, especially those under five. However, that does not mean that there is any justification for giving insufficient attention to the crucial second decade of life, which of course is the focus of the UN International Year of Youth.

Youths continue to be subsumed under the category of children but are too often overlooked in the programming and resources available; it is far more likely that that programming and those resources will be directed to younger children. It means that young people’s contributions are overlooked and neglected. As many noble Lords will know, many of these young people are heads of households, often caring for young siblings, fetching water and preparing food, yet they have absolutely no authority within their community and are excluded from all the decision-making. We now risk jeopardising the gains in early and middle childhood that have been made since 1990 and seeing a deterioration in those advances.

I am reminded of the story of a young woman speaking at a recent UN meeting. She asked the delegates, “How old will you be in 2050?”. The chair of the committee admitted that he would be 110 and therefore unlikely to see the results of our failure to act. The fact is that the kind of world in which that young woman lives will depend both on those who inherit it and on those who bequeath it to them. Noble Lords have talked about young people being our future. I would say that young people are our present too, and it is very important that we remember that.

It has certainly been my experience that all too often young people are not consulted, are not taken seriously and are not given a voice, when the parameters of rights and responsibilities are clearly agreed under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Tackling the challenges faced by young women is imperative at this time, as many noble Lords have said.

With many apologies to the noble Baroness, a Division has now been called in the Chamber. The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 5.26 pm.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, I carry on where I left off. Two-thirds of the 137 million illiterate young people in the world are young women. The noble Baroness mentioned some of the statistics. If you break them down, you see that more than half of HIV-infected young people are young women. That is why tackling the challenges faced by young women is an absolute imperative. Educating girls brings benefits such as delayed marriage, reduced rates of HIV, reduction in unwanted, unplanned pregnancies and maternal mortality, higher family incomes and lower rates of domestic violence. There is a long list of proven benefits. It is clear that talk of social transformation is meaningless unless the culture of discrimination and inequity which so many young women face is challenged. Young women need equal access to secondary education, to health, to employment, to juvenile justice and to identity. Adolescent girls need access to sexual and reproductive health rights. This should be urgently addressed. Complications relating to pregnancy and child birth are a leading cause of death worldwide among adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

Much of what needs to be done will be achieved only, as the noble Baroness said, if data are disaggregated. They should be disaggregated by age and gender; otherwise, one cannot make the relevant deductions. There has to be engagement across the board, from communities, Governments, the private sector, civil society, religious leaders, NGOs and donors. Everybody has to come behind the messages of this UN International Year of Youth. Many institutional and cultural barriers stand in the way of progress for young people at this time, but this year, which celebrates young people, should be used as a springboard for their future progress and opportunity.

My Lords, before thanking my noble friend, I thank all noble Lords for an excellent debate, particularly in view of the time. If I do not succeed in covering all points raised by noble Lords, I undertake to write to them. I warmly welcome the support offered for the Government’s desire to ensure that girls and women remain at the heart of our policies.

I thank my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton for tabling this debate in the International Year of Youth, launched in August last year. I thank her for her work in supporting children and young people, including in her role as trustee of UNICEF. The work of UNICEF in more than 190 countries around the world is exemplary. That is why the Government have announced a doubling of their funding support for the agency.

The proportion of young people in the world today is higher than it has ever been. More than 3 billion people are under the age of 25, accounting for nearly half of the world's population. They have great opportunities, such as the ability to access information about world events at their fingertips, but they are also faced with new challenges, including those caused by climate change and the global financial crisis. We have witnessed many young people in the Middle East and north Africa calling for freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. These young people will be the leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow. They must have a role in rebuilding these countries and ensuring that the new constitutions uphold and promote human rights.

Experience tells us that we have to tackle the root causes of the development challenges today or we will spend much more time in future trying to deal with the symptoms. Almost 90 per cent of all young people live in developing countries. It is clear that we must harness the full potential of young people in order to guide developing countries towards a prosperous and stable future. The Government are fully committed to achieving better outcomes for young people in the poorest countries. There is a lot of good work under way. For example, in Sierra Leone, UK support has enabled 11,300 people aged between 18 and 28 to be trained as volunteer peer educators to work in schools and local communities to change health behaviours and reduce vulnerability to HIV. In Palestine, the UK is providing support through the Civil Society Challenge Fund to reduce poverty and social exclusion among physically disabled young people in the West Bank.

Young people are not merely passive recipients of aid but can be a powerful engine for achieving long-term development. DfID is supporting a number of international and local organisations to enhance youth participation and voice in development. In Brazil, for example, UK support has facilitated 5,300 teenagers and young people to be involved in monitoring public policy and programmes focusing on education. We supported the CSO youth working group to produce its guidance entitled Youth Participation in Development: A Guide for Development Agencies and Policy Makers. We will continue to draw on its strength to work with youth participation in the countries where we work—for example, as we develop new participatory approaches with young people through our partnership with the Nike Foundation.

In September last year, to mark the International Year of Youth and in the lead-up to the United Nations millennium development goals summit, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development met with over 30 youth delegates from the UK to hear their views about global poverty and their priorities for tackling it.

The Government believe that it is through investing in young people, and in particular in girls and young women, that we will achieve transformative benefits for future generations. Last month, DfID launched a new strategic vision for girls and women, which sets out that the UK will prioritise support to adolescent girls in four areas: to delay first pregnancy and support safe child birth; to support girls and young women through primary and secondary education; to provide girls and women directly with assets and with jobs and access to financial services; and to prevent violence against girls and women.

Educating girls is one of the best investments to reduce poverty, but in sub-Saharan Africa there are only 79 girls for every 100 boys in secondary education. This is less equal than in 1999. We will concentrate on retaining girls in school and enabling girls to progress through to secondary school, where the largest benefits accrue. By 2014 we will be supporting over 9 million children in primary education, of which at least half will be girls, and 700,000 girls in secondary education. Examples of UK support include Tanzania, where we will support 14,000 more female teachers to provide positive role models for girls. In Pakistan, 57,500 lavatory blocks will be built for girls to give them privacy, security and dignity. But we know that education is not enough on its own. That is why, by 2015, we will be helping 2.3 million women to access jobs and 18 million women to access financial services. To support adolescent girls in particular, we are developing pilots through a new programme partnership with the Nike Foundation to increase our access to assets. This will include cash transfers, girl clubs, financial literacy and saving accounts designed for girls.

On the UK’s domestic work to support young people in the International Year of Youth, the Government want all of our young people to aspire and achieve and to be active citizens in their communities and wider society. We want a stronger focus on closing the gap in achievement between the richest and the poorest by supporting the most vulnerable young people. We have ensured that the funding is there to guarantee that more young people stay on in school, restating our commitment to raising the participation age to 18 by 2015. We are committed to the pupil premium and early intervention grant, which will provide targeted support and services for the young people who need it the most; and we have commissioned the Wolf review to make recommendations on vocational education for 14 to 19 year-olds.

The Government are in the process of working with young people and youth organisations to create a new statement of policy for young people that is sustainable for the long term. This will be achievable and has the positive endorsement and buy-in of young people themselves. A youth summit event, “Positive for Youth”, was held on 9 March. The participation of almost 300 people from across all sectors, including more than 50 young people, enabled an open, engaging and productive debate about the key issues that matter most to young people. “Positive for Youth” marked the beginning of a genuine opportunity to do something that is new, different and positive for young people. Tim Loughton, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, has also convened a representative group of young people to advise him directly on the development of the Government’s new policy, and to provide an ongoing forum for youth proofing policies across government.

The Government’s flagship national citizen service programme will be central to increasing the engagement and active participation of young people in their communities. It will offer young people a shared opportunity for personal development and community services through an intensive summer programme. It will also be a catalyst for the greater involvement of community and civil society organisations in providing universal activities, as well as stimulating greater engagement from private organisations.

We are also offering young adults the chance to volunteer on social action projects in developing countries. This new scheme, the international citizen service, will offer a life-changing experience for young people from the UK to improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. The ICS will channel the skills, enthusiasm and energy of young volunteers to make a meaningful contribution to a range of development projects. Some ICS volunteers will work alongside national volunteers, who will be supported to continue their work after the UK volunteers have departed and to develop their own skills.

In the couple of minutes that I have left I shall turn to some of the questions raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, asked what the Government are doing to enable young people to learn from and contribute to the big society in England. The Government want all young people to have a positive and active place in society and to be active citizens in their communities. The national citizen service and the development of the international citizen service are excellent ways for ensuring that young people become engaged. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I also learned through my own experience how working with people with so many vulnerabilities at their doorstep makes that a life change for you.

My noble friend Lady Morris asked about disaggregated data. DfID produces youth-disaggregated data where it can. For example, it encourages country offices to produce age-disaggregated data for their programmes. However, for technical reasons, it is sometimes not appropriate to disaggregate all indicators by age because sometimes the beneficiaries are not targeted at that level—for example, the supply of clean water is not age appropriate but is on a geographic basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, referred to the problem of human trafficking. He will be happy to hear that the UK ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in 2008. After considering the views of Parliament, we will see whether we will sign up to that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, spoke about the Commonwealth and its importance to young people. DfID supports young people in the Commonwealth to engage in international development and build their skills. We provide funding of £850,000 per year to the Commonwealth Youth Programme, run by the Commonwealth Secretariat. This encourages young people’s engagement in international development.

I think that I have run out of time. I undertake to respond in writing to all noble Lords whose questions I have not answered.