With 1.8 billion people between the ages of 15 and 29, there are more young people today than ever before. Close to 87% live in developing countries. 60% of the Commonwealth’s population of over 2 billion people is under the age of 30 years.

Young people are increasingly active and recognized as agents of social and economic progress; however, the potential of their role at the center of development continues to be undermined by the wide range of challenges they confront. According to the 2016 Youth Development Index Report, these obstacles include the lack of decent work opportunities; ineffective and undemocratic political participation structures; protracted conflicts and natural disasters; and poor health. For instance, in every part of the world, young people are at least twice as likely as others to be unemployed. Young people account for more than 40% of all new HIV infections among adults. Annually, at least one in five adolescents suffers from mental and psychological trauma, most commonly in the form of depression or anxiety.

At least one-third of young people in the world live in fragile and conflict-affected states, and disproportionately bear the brunt of war and violence. Young people, especially men, are victims of homicide far more often than older people. Estimates suggest that more than 50% of all the victims of homicide in the world are under 30 years of age and the vast majority of them live in low and middle income countries. Similarly, the number of young people forcibly displaced by conflict and disasters has increased significantly over the past few years. In 2011, around 14 million youth were adversely affected by conflict and disasters. Today’s figures will be much higher, given that the total number of forcibly displaced people hit a record high of 65.3 million in 2015.

Although climate change threatens to inflict dire consequences upon the entire world, its debilitating impact will be felt first and foremost by young people. In the more vulnerable parts of the world, such as small island countries, climate change is no longer just a risk; its effects are being felt already, disrupting lives and destroying age-old ways of life. And the burden of leading their countries and communities through this uncharted territory is also for young people to bear.

In 2015, the Commonwealth celebrated the theme ‘A Young Commonwealth’, which highlighted Article 13 of the Commonwealth Charter, which recognizes the importance of young people. It acknowledged the positive and active role and contributions of young people in promoting development, peace and democracy, and in protecting and promoting other Commonwealth values such as respect and understanding, including for other cultures. Article 13 of the Charter recognizes the current demography of the Commonwealth and provides a strong argument for continued investments in young people. It says unequivocally, ‘the future success of the Commonwealth rests with the continued commitment and contributions of young people in promoting and sustaining the Commonwealth and its values and principles’

Despite the socio-economic, political and cultural challenges, there is also much positive news:
- Heightened interest from Heads of Government and leaders of industry to commit to young people;
- A growing realisation that young people have the potential, skills and motivation to add value and credible solutions to achieving development outcomes
- An increasing willingness of new, and in many cases well-resourced, players to become involved in youth development;
- Energised and informed youth leaders, and the emergence of new youth networks, platforms and youth led organizations, ready to partner with governments and stakeholders to deliver development outcomes.

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