THIS year's World Population Day has been celebrated at a durbar here in the Effigya Sekyere District of Ashanti with a call on Ghanaians to support government's efforts at retraining and re-directing the youth to gainful employment.
Alhaji Abubakar Saddique Boniface, Minister of Manpower, Youth and Employment, in a keynote speech read on his behalf, said “investing in young people is the responsibility of all well-meaning Ghanaians.”
World Population Day is celebrated on July 11, every year by member countries of the UN to focus attention on major international and national population issues that affect humanity and to formulate policies to address them.
The global theme for this year's day was “Young People” and in Ghana it was celebrated under the theme “Investing in young people, the nation's future.”
The durbar which was jointly organized by the United Nation's Population Fund (UNFPA), the National Population Council and partner agencies, was attended by Ministers of State, Members of Parliamentary Caucus on Population and Development, chiefs, the NGO community and young people.
Alhaji Boniface said young people, classified to be aged 10 to 24, should be helped to grow in an enabling environment that would help bring out their full potential.
He said young people constituted a heterogeneous segment of the population with varied characteristics and needs as well as diverse opportunities and threats.
“Young people are saddled with a complex array of health, educational and employment challenges,” he said, adding that issues of sexuality, drug abuse and ignorance had further heightened their problems.
He said the situation is further worsened by the rapidly changing social and cultural environment and prevailing globalization which influenced their judgment.
The Minister pointed out that existing opportunities existed for young people but were often missed and said that those opportunities could be developed to allow them to acquire relevant skills and knowledge in order to play very meaningful roles in society.
Alhaji Boniface said the health status of young people, their educational pursuits and the fact that they were growing and learning offered great opportunities for programme interaction.
Young people in Ghana, like other developing countries he said, faced a myriad of problems such as early marriages and child-bearing, sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion.
Others included parenting, incomplete education, unemployment, drug abuse, streetism and inadequate support as they prepared to enter adulthood in a rapidly changing world.
He said government considers education as a key tool for young people's development and that article 25 of the 1992 Constitution called for Free and Compulsory Basic Education.
Alhaji Boniface said primary school enrolment had not attained the desired level adding that poverty had been identified as a major contributory factor in that regard.
He said the Capitation Grant and the school feeding programme for young people were promoting equity in education at least at the basic school level.
Alhaji Boniface said the government, through the GETFund, was upgrading educational facilities in the form of classrooms, laboratories, libraries, teachers and student residential accommodation and incentives to teachers to give of their best.
He therefore appealed to young people to take advantage of those opportunities to prepare adequately for the future.
Alhaji Boniface urged young people to lead responsible lives, avoid copying foreign and unacceptable values and morals and advised them to concentrate their energies on education and skills development.
Mr Makane Kane, the UNFPA representative in Ghana, stressed the importance of young people, saying, “they carry the heritage of the family and the nation, and are the living expression of our hope for the future.”
He said nearly half the world's population is under the age of 25 - the largest youth generation in history and added that about 20 per cent (1.2 billion) of those under 25 years, are between 10 and 19 years of age.
Mr Kane said some three billion young people would soon be of reproductive age with considerable social and economic implications, noting that 87 per cent of the figure live in developing countries.
He said in sub-Saharan Africa, over 50 per cent of the population was under the age of 20 years and the fertility and reproductive health decisions they make today would determine the future size of Africa's population and prospects for development.
Mr Kane said millions of young people were threatened by poverty, illiteracy, lack of skills, unemployment, risks of pregnancy, childbirth and HIV/AIDS.
“More than 500 million people aged 15 to 24 years live on less than two dollars a day, 96 million young women in developing countries cannot read or write; and 14 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 became mothers every year,” he said.
Mr Kane called on nations to harness the potential of young people since they constitute a positive force for development, peace and progress.
Mrs Esther Yaa Apewokin, Executive Director of the National Population Council (NPC), said the 2005 state of Ghana Population Report was to be devoted specifically to young people.
She hoped it would contribute to helping bridge the generation gap between young people and adults in the country.
Mr E.A. Owusu Ansah, the Ashanti Regional Minister, cited the 2000 population and housing census and said the Ashanti Region has 30.2 per cent of its population to be between the ages of 10-24.
He said critical issues confronting young people include low educational level, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and unemployment.
Mr Ansah commended the young people for their innovation, perseverance and diligence especially the citizens of Suame Magazine and urged them to use those virtues for the development of the region.