UN High-level Political Forum in 2019: relevance for Young People

By Jamie Judd:

When the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) High-level Political Forum (HLPF) convenes on 9 July this year, it will be focusing on six of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). They all relate to the theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. A Youth Forum will be convened on 7-8 April to seek the opinions of representatives from youth-led and youth-focused organisations ahead of several key meetings this year. While this year’s goals are no doubt important in a wider perspective, they hold special significance for young people, particularly those focused on education and climate change. 

Goal 4:Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all –Despite increases in the participation rate for early childhood education, more than half of children and adolescents are not meeting UN minimum proficiency standards in reading or mathematics. The situation is worst in low income countries, with over half of the children of sub-Saharan Africa not benefiting from education at all, and nearly 2/3rds of the schools that do exist lacking electricity or basic hand-washing facilities. This not only hinders the growth of talent in such countries but will also hold back young people both of today and of the coming decades. Lack of education also significantly affects the health of young people, and lack of knowledge about topics such as general health and sexuality are key to both avoiding disease and contributing to reducing rates of gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, and child marriage.

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all – As countries adapt their economic policies for the 21stCentury, many developing countries will be seeking to take advantage of the ‘demographic dividend’. With a large cohort of better educated young people moving into adulthood and having fewer children, and given the increased awareness of contraception etc, there is a demographic bulge of young people in many countries. If countries do not take advantage of this phenomenon, they will be losing the chance to boost their economic fortunes, missing the opportunity of benefitting from  high numbers of this cohort. Economic growth can also be sustained with provision for maternal and paternal leave, which also benefits child development. 

Goal 10:Reduce inequality within and among countries– While the topic of inequality is not explicitly linked to any one group of young people, the role of young people in helping fight inequality must be both acknowledged and aided. Increasing numbers of young people feel able to identify as LGBTQI+ than in previous generations. LGBT versus non-LGBT suicide disparity is also greatest at young ages, and, therefore, young people have high stakes in dealing with inequality, both in terms of sexuality and in a wider sense. If young people are to make the best of their lives, they must have access to the facilities with which to empower those disadvantaged by their age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or economic status.

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts –With Greta Thunberg’s Student’s Strike for Climate Change inspiring more than 1.4 million young people in 128 countries to take part in demonstrations for environmental change, it is clear that young people have a definite drive to combat climate change and its impact. With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reporting that the crucial threshold of temperature rise will be reached as soon as 2030, today’s young people will bear the brunt of droughts, wildfires, floods, and food shortages caused by inaction in the face of climate disaster, more than those of previous generations.

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels –The greatest barrier for young people in developing countries in achieving fair and just treatment is that they are not recognised by the legal system, with under half of births being registered in sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, mistreatment of children is often not seen as such in developing countries, with eight out of 10 children in 81 countries aged between 1 and 14 being subjected to some form of aggressive or physical punishment, and over half to violent treatment. Furthermore, even when children are being included in systems of justice, they are often still targeted, with children accounting for a sizeable portion of human trafficking victims, trafficked primarily for sexual exploitation or forced labour. Youth-focused organizations must seek to collaborate with other justice advocacy groups to help provide for the specialised needs of children in these situations, and to bring them inside the justice systems of these countries.

Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development – With many organisations now either being run for the benefit of young people, or being designed and run by young people themselves, any means of strengthening partnerships between organizations will likely involve those with connections to young people. However, in solving the issues faced today by young people, there must be a concerted effort for their organizations to cooperate and collaborate at events like the ECOSOC Youth Forum. If youth issues are to be solved to any great degree, they must not be addressed by youth groups alone. Therefore, it will be important to construct partnerships between youth groups and other fields, with actions such as the formation of statements within this Youth Forum for use at High-Level Events. For the greatest chance at addressing youth issues, we must seek to increase these partnerships between youth and general groups, by increasing the levels of youth representation at these High-Level events.


United Nations. 2018. Sustainable development goals report 2018. New York.

Starrs, A, Ezeh, A, Barker, G, Basu, et al. (2018). Accelerate progress—sexual and reproductive health and rights for all: report of the Guttmacher–Lancet Commission. The Lancet, 391(10140), pp.2642-2692

Drummond P, Thakoor VJ, Yu S. Africa rising: harnessing the demographic dividend. IMF working paper no. 14/143. Washington, DC: International Money Fund, 2014.

Ream RL, What's Unique About Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth and Young Adult Suicides?, in The Journal of Adolescent Health, 2019, New York.

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