Laos' new development strategy shines spotlight on youth

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN): Young people will benefit from the first National Youth and Adolescent Development Strategy, which will support ministries to run programmes in the fields of health, education, employment, and the protection and participation of adolescents and young people.

The strategy has been developed by the Lao Youth Union and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and will address the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on adolescents and young people.

The scheme will help to improve Laos’ human capital and contribute to achieving the objectives of 9th National Socio-economic Development Plan and Sustainable Development Goals.

Additional resources will be mobilised and budgets will be allocated by the government to ministries and public agencies for interventions as needed. The strategy will also seek technical and financial support from international organisations, development partners and the private sector.

Officially endorsed by the Prime Minister in December 2020, the National Youth and Adolescent Development Strategy will be implemented by concerned ministries and agencies, including mass organisations from the central to local levels.

UNFPA Lao Country Representative, Mariam A. Khan, congratulated the Lao Youth Union on the development of the strategy.

She said the pandemic calls for immediate and mid to long term strategic responses to address its impact on adolescents and young people so that the progress achieved during the last few decades is protected and continues.

More than half of the population of Laos is below 24 years of age, which provides a window of opportunity for realising a demographic dividend. However, the demographic dividend can only be realised if young people are educated, empowered, and have access to employment and economic opportunities, Khan said.

Discussions at the launch highlighted the effects of the pandemic on adolescents and young people in various areas including education, reproductive and sexual health, mental health, and psychosocial issues as well as socio-economic impacts.

The Covid-19 impact assessment showed that secondary school dropouts and unintended pregnancies are projected to increase due to disruptions in schooling and access to sexual and reproductive health and family planning services.

The assessment also indicates that young people whose education and work are interrupted are almost twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Adolescent girls and young women are at increased risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices such as child marriage.

To address these issues, it is recommended to invest more in a youth-focused Covid-19 response, to ensure inclusiveness. Data collection, particularly disaggregated data, is needed to inform planning, as well as engaging adolescents and young people as agents of change participating in the discussions and decision-making that impacts their lives. - Vientiane Times/Asia News Network

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