On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I join the world in marking World Population Day on July 11, and celebrating the 20th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
As a senator, I was part of the U.S. delegation that participated in the ICPD 20 years ago. I was honored to join the global community in Cairo where we set far-reaching goals linking global health, human rights, and development.
These goals are as relevant now as they were then. They form the foundation for our work to promote reproductive health and rights, gender equality, and the empowerment of women and young people. We have made tremendous progress over the past 20 years, especially in education and reducing maternal and child mortality.
I’ve seen some of this progress during my travels. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I met young girls returned to health after difficult pregnancies with the help of local health workers. And in Afghanistan, I listened to women tell me about their experiences at school and starting businesses, both unimaginable only a few years before.
But progress has not been even. Many of the most vulnerable people have been left behind, including many of our young people.
World Population Day’s theme this year is “investing in youth.” All around the globe, young people face enormous challenges. A half a billion young people subsist on less than two dollars a day, carving out lives in urban slums and rural fields. More than two million adolescents live with the scourge of HIV/AIDS, many without access to lifesaving treatment. The practices of early and forced marriage persist, despite near-universal commitment to eliminate them. One out of every three girls in developing countries will be married before reaching 18 and more than 15 million girls will give birth each year, robbing them of a chance to finish school and pursue their dreams.
These young people will set the course of global health and population growth for many years to come. That’s why we must work together to remove barriers to health services, education, and employment. Only then can they realize their full potential and help drive social and economic development.
The United States remains committed to working with the international community to build on the progress we have made. Young people represent our hope for a brighter future. Empowering them will create a better world for us all.