My fellow Jamaicans, each year Commonwealth Day is observed on the second Monday in March. Fundamentally, it is a day to remember, celebrate and learn about the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 53 diverse member states that share language, history and culture and believe in the values of democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law.
This year, Commonwealth Day is being celebrated under the theme “A Young Commonwealth”, in recognition of the fact that young people comprise more than half of the two (2) billion population of the Commonwealth. The theme “A Young Commonwealth” recognizes the capacity, contribution and potential of young people to play a vital role in our drive to achieve sustainable development and democracy.
Despite our collective efforts, the reality is that we are living in a world that is plagued by unacceptably high levels of poverty, particularly in developing countries. Urgent attention is needed to eradicate poverty, as many continue to bear the brunt of inequality, exclusion and conflict. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we rid ourselves of the conditions which lead to poverty and work together, in good faith, to secure the sustainable “Future We Want”.
Currently, the international community is actively engaged in several processes which are geared towards shaping a new global development framework, the Post-2015 Development Agenda, by agreeing on renewed priorities for the years to come. Commonwealth youth must be engaged and empowered to be a part of this process and be taken into account in its reach and impact. We must ensure that no country or group of persons is left behind.
In Jamaica, adolescents and youth (10-24 years) represent 27.5% of our total population and are key agents for social change, economic development, and technological innovation. We also know that our young people are well-placed to harness the benefits of and to respond to the speed of change in the development of technology and to show us how to use it for the greater good.
Undoubtedly, our youth are our future. But their resilience depends in part on whether they are healthy and educated, whether they have options and opportunities in life, and whether they are fully engaged citizens whose rights are upheld.
The Government of Jamaica is therefore cognizant of the need to make our youth a central part of our development agenda. As such, we are giving priority to creating employment opportunities for youth; addressing the adverse effects of poverty on adolescents and youth; confronting the violence, exploitation and abuse of children, adolescents and youth; and instituting concrete procedures and mechanisms for adolescents and youth to participate in the planning, implementation and evaluation of development activities that have a direct impact on their lives.
We believe that these initiatives and others will help our youth to achieve their potential for productivity, innovation and creative dynamism and enable them to continue to uphold the values and principles of the Commonwealth in the years ahead.