UNITED NATIONS — In both developed and underdeveloped nations, youth are in a precarious situation, facing poverty, HIV/AIDS and lack of access to education, among other critical problems. It was in this context that the UN devoted a week in October to the problems of young people.

At a special session of the General Assembly Oct. 6, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette said more than half of the world’s population is under 25 years old, and 200 million young people live in poverty, 130 million are illiterate, 88 million are unemployed and 10 million have HIV or AIDS.

Frechette noted that today’s children, who will become youth in the next decade or so, also face enormous challenges, particularly in the underdeveloped countries. “A quarter of all children in the developing world are malnourished — or half of all children living in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia,” she said. “Eleven million children under the age of five die each year from preventable and treatable diseases, and 115 million … are currently not in school.”

Frechette’s statistics come from the 2005 World Youth Report, published by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The report aims to track progress on key socio-economic goals spelled out in a World Program of Action for Youth (WPAY) adopted 10 years ago.

In many ways the WPAY can be viewed as a companion to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. It outlines 15 key areas, including education, employment, the rights of young women, health, environment, drug abuse, poverty, HIV/AIDS, globalization and, strikingly, full youth participation in running their world.

The report says capitalist globalization has created greater economic inequality both between nations and within them, and young people are among the most vulnerable in the changing world economy. The heaviest burden, however, falls on the lesser-developed countries, which have seen “a declining economic growth rate, loss of jobs, low incomes, and poor education and health provision.”

Governments of the world should “pay attention to the negative impacts of globalization on youth,” warned Jiang Guangping, a leader of the All-China Youth Federation. “Cooperation should be stepped up.”

At a roundtable discussion, Nguyen Hong Nhung, a youth representative from Vietnam, said, “Young people’s active involvement in the policy-making process in their countries has contributed to changing each individual’s life.”

Ileana Nuñez, representing Cuba, spoke of her country’s successful involvement of youth in policymaking. “Youth, rather than being an object of a social policy, play a leading role in its development, and have a solid background in the culture of participation and democratic traditions.” She said Cuban youth have a 99.96 percent literacy rate, and have free and universal access to education at all levels. They also enjoy free and comprehensive health care, like all Cubans.

However, Nuñez said, “Seven out every 10 Cubans were born and have lived under hardships of the criminal policy of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the U.S. government,” making everyday life much more difficult.

“Future generations need a world free from hunger and poverty, with health, education and dignity for all,” Nuñez said. “This was the demand of thousands of young people who met in Caracas, Venezuela, to celebrate the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students.” She said only by eliminating imperialism and neoliberalism can WPAY’s goals be fully achieved.

Jessica Marshall, representative of the World Federation of Democratic Youth at the UN, said the main obstacle to achieving such goals, both in the U.S. and worldwide, is the Bush administration. WFDY represents millions of youth in over 130 nations.

“The Bush administration has tried to break the UN, and with it, all of the programs that would help the world’s people, including youth,” Marshall said. “It started the war in Iraq that has killed tens of thousands of people. For that war, the U.S. military is preying on the poorest American young people. Working-class American youth are told that joining the military — and going to possibly die in Iraq in a criminal war — is the only way to a job, to education, to a better life. We have to stop the Bush administration, for youth both here and internationally.”