On 18 July 2016, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Deputy President of South Africa, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, engaged in an exciting dialogue with young people from across Africa, when they met on the sidelines of the International AIDS Conference 2016 in Durban. Mr. Ban was not part of the delegation for the International AIDS Conference, but was in South Africa to commemorate the Nelson Mandela International Day on 18 July and seized the opportunity to meet with young people on the first day of the conference, July 18, at Durban City Hall. With active participation from UNFPA South Africa Youth Advisory Panel (YAP), Mr. Ban addressed a crowd of around 80 young people as well as high level dignatories, including South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, South African Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, eThekwini Executive Mayor James Nxumalo.
The UN takes young people’s issues seriously, said Mr. Ban: “Three and a half billion people in the world are under 25 years old. You are the owners of this world so it is natural that we work with you.” He expressed concern that only last year, there were 250,000 new HIV infections among young people, of which 65 per cent were among girls. “This is not acceptable!” he said. He suggested five tips for a better life for young people: Scale up HIV responses for vulnerable populations; ensure access to sexuality education for young people; revise legal frameworks; challenge harmful cultural practices such as child marriage; strengthen data management as credible data is needed.
The session was moderated by the young people themselves and led by a member of the UNFPA South Africa YAP. Mr. Ban commended them. “Some of you have already played a leadership role today but some of you will become leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “But for this to happen, you need to prepare yourself to become leaders and global citizens, and you need to have a quality education.” Young people agreed to this and stressed that they need proper support to realize their dreams. “We are tired of tokenism; we want to reinstate our position at the decision-making tables on issues that affect us,” said a young girl from AfriYAN Zimbabwe.
Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Director summed up the meeting as an excellent discussion: “I thank the Republic of South Africa who have created this opportunity for young people to interact with the United Nations, and the young people who have sincerely shared with us their issues. This is the generation that will lead us forward on the Sustainable Development Agenda, for the people and for the planet.