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Remarks by Ms. Nardos Bekele-Thomas, UN Resident Coordinator in SA on International Youth Day

12 August 2020 – As we commemorate the United Nations International Youth Day – a day to celebrate our youth, our future and mainstream young peoples’ voices, and promote their engagement in political, social and economic processes and acknowledge them as partners for change in the implementation of Agenda 2030.

Today, South Africa is witnessing the largest young population it has ever known. This is the same with all African countries. The question we all ask is how can countries reap the benefits of this demographic dividends?
1. We need to harness the potential, capture the youthful energies and redirect them to productive sectors. We need to meet the challenge of creating enough jobs and opportunities head on;

2. To harness the potential of young people, it is important that we create the right environment for youth to get engaged. We need to abolish alienation, marginalization and/or exclusion. Conversely, we need to work with youth to create conducive mindsets; bring the requisite mind shift from being dependent and despondent to being resilient, focussed, confident, independent, creative and innovative. A mind that sees challenges as opportunities;

3. We need our children and grandchildren as change agents to resolve the deepening and stubborn inequality, fight poverty, prevent catastrophic climate challenge. Yet too often young people around the world are not equipped to co-create the world that the future generation requires.

4. However, I have come across some universities and secondary and tertiary education in Africa which have started transforming young people’s minds to becoming creative and innovative, capable of reimagining their societies, redesign infrastructure and systems and drive technology. My conversation with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria, just two days ago, was reassuring. There is hope!

Unfortunately, this year’s event comes at a difficult time for South Africa and indeed the world as we fight the impact of the invisible disease of COVID-19. This pandemic is not just a health emergency. We have seen its wide-ranging socio-economic impact on millions of South Africans. No one is spared, not even our resilient and vibrant youth. The young population is the hardest hit by the rising unemployment and its vulnerable groups impacted negatively from the closure of education and the lack of capacity to acquire the technology required for remote learning. We depend on your ingenuity to take us out of this situation!

The virus has also limited the access to health care, in particular SRHR, HIV and SGBV prevention and protection services including psycho-social and mental health support. We count on you to save us from increased unintended pregnancies, from increasing HIV infections, and most important to demolish the increasing high rates of GBV.

The objective of this webinar is to ensure that youth development remains high on the agenda to make the future generation resilient to current and future shocks. The engagement platform the UN is creating is not just to hear the voices of our young people – it is to listen and translate their plight into actionable response. It is in this light that the United Nations Development System (UNDS) in South Africa wants to put the spotlight on the dynamics of meaningful youth engagement in the context of COVID-19, and post COVID-19; not as observers but as partners for change and recovery.

The UN through various agencies but in particular UNFPA have responded to some of the challenges faced by young people. This includes:
• Through certain platforms we have provided factual, age-appropriate information about the virus to adolescents and youth;
• Investing in strengthening the health system to support continuity of services through scale up and or provision of mobile delivery of integrated HIV, SRHR and GBV youth friendly services including distribution of sanitary dignity kits for vulnerable women and girls;


• Providing information and education on mitigating risk of all forms of violence against adolescents and youth and strengthening the capacity of youth organizations to engage safely, effectively and meaningfully in the response.
• Through UNICEF, we have supported the government to create the necessary environment for education, including access to water, support to parents and students for e-learning;
• Through UNDP we support the provision of entrepreneurship training, our innovation centers provide the space for creativity and innovation;

The UN inter-agency Group on youth in South Africa has been established to support a “comprehensive” approach to youth issues over the period of the new UN Sustainable Development Framework Period (2020-2025).

It is committed to supporting initiatives aimed at promoting youth inclusion and participation AND aims to enhance Meaningful Youth Participation (MYP) in a manner that will ensure young people’s, involvement in all stages of decision-making, and that young people can participate on equal terms. Such engagement is designed to be action and result-oriented capable of informing and bringing about changes to policies and programmes.

Our guiding approach in engaging young people is varied. It is based on working with youth as beneficiaries; engaging with youth as partners and supporting youth as leaders.

Through our United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF), which was formulated in consultation with young people (we had a consultative meeting with youth just a year ago, on 13 August 2019) we want to invest in harnessing the energies and potentials of the young population, to achieve the SDGs and to support the implementation of the National Development Plan with the sole objective of reducing poverty, unemployment and inequality.

We are ten years away to the due date of SDGs. Add ten years to your life now – where will you be? What will you be? What is it that you need to reach your goals ? What is it that you and all of us can do starting from today to rid the obstacles you envisage to reach your goals; so that we do not find ourselves fighting the same fight ten years down the line.

We also want your engagement in global matters, as we all are becoming global citizens. This year the United Nations turns 75. We are soliciting your views. What kind of UN would you like to see in your lifetime? Please go to and express your views.

In conclusion, I want to take this opportunity to honour the millions of youth in this country – you show resilience through innovation – you show courage and you show determination. Do not give up hope or faith and always believe that you have the power to define your destinies.

There is an old saying “nothing about us without us” . Involving young women and men as partners in the implementation of the sustainable development goals, in defining their future, is both a right in itself; but also a vital ingredient in the transformative development process. Let us march together to a better future leaving no one behind!

I thank you!