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Reaping the Demographic Dividend: the Role of Young People in Sustainable Development

By: Isaac Ejakhegbe, Women Deliver Young Leader

Young people between the ages of 10 and 24 make up 1.8 billion  of the world population—they are strong, vibrant and have the potential to bring about huge development and social progress in any economy. With more young people concentrated in low- and middle-income countries, developing nations need to harness the strengths and advantages of having a surge in the youth population. They need only to be educated and empowered in order to turn the fortune of their nations around. When given a chance, the world's young people can help lead the way forward.

Those of us who were born or mere children around the time when the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was held in Cairo in 1994 are now adults. By 2030, children born in 2015, the year that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted, will be 15 year old. As the world charts a new course, we cannot afford to leave our young people behind.

From the Ebola outbreak in Africa, earthquakes in Asia, Zika at Latin America, and humanitarian relief at migration camps in Europe, among others, young people are at the frontlines of humanitarian aid, working to bring about change. I see a glimmer of hope in the response of young people to the world's growing crises—they want to be part of the solution.

Yet, worldwide many young people, particularly those in developing nations, are not given the opporutnity to utilize their skills or to live up to their full potential. They are at risk of unemployment, sexual abuse, trafficking and exploitation—adolescent girls, in particular, face heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence, which can negatively affect their lives in many ways.

It is time to empower them and their ability to drive a local response, rebuilding and re-energizing their communities and countries for sustainable development.

To reap the economic surplus which the demographic dividend portends, country governments must see the importance of investing and ensure inclusiveness of young adult in development agenda. Policies to improve and strengthen young people health, education are not only critical, but economically sound as well. When combined with employment, they have the potential to expand the social and economic capacity of countries through the contributions of the youth workforce.

The meeting of youth, partners, and policy makers at the Women Deliver 2016 Conference in Copenhagen from 16-19 May provides a valuable opportunity to facilitate policy dialogue and program design, as well as implementation. It will also make clear why young people should be at the center of sustainable development and must be engaged throughout those processes.

Together, we can achieve more when young people are among the driver for SDGs.

Isaac Oriafo Ejakhegbe is a Women Deliver Young Leader from Nigeria. He works in the nonprofit sector, with a focus on health promotion, maternal and child health, gender equality and climate change. He graduated with a Master of Public Health from the University of Ghana, Legon and wrote his thesis on gender equality, women empowerment, and contraceptive use in the Western Region of Ghana. Among others, he is passionate about civil engagement and has written works in HIV, child labour, girls education, climate change. He tweets at @wisenobleman.

Photo courtesy of: Scott Wallace, World Bank

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