Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Opening of the UNODC Youth Forum 2021

  29 March 2021

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

A warm welcome to the 2021 UNODC Youth Forum.

I thank the Sovereign Order of Malta and the Russian Federation for their longstanding support for this annual event.

I am very pleased that despite COVID challenges, we are able to hold this Forum and continue a valuable tradition which started in 2012. Thanks to the virtual format of this year’s meeting, we have even more young people joining us than ever before, to work together and learn from each other.

I am proud that ahead of the 64th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, we are bringing together 62 young people from 41 countries to exchange experiences and ideas on how to best protect the health and well-being of their peers within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, and specifically SDG 3.5 on strengthening the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

Creating such connections and building a network for common action and mutual support is particularly important at a time when the world, and young people, are suffering from the effects of the COVID pandemic.

Your generation has been hit particularly hard by the crisis, with youth more than twice as likely as older workers to lose their jobs.

More than 200 million students globally have missed at least three-quarters of classroom instruction time since March 2020, and 11 million girls may not go back to school after the crisis.

Vulnerabilities are on the rise, and UNICEF has warned that the pandemic could lead to a mental health crisis among youth.

I admire and commend you for having continued working for the greater good and leading within your communities on substance use prevention, despite all the difficulties which you have faced over the past year.

I believe that your engagement is essential for the world to recover better from the pandemic and develop greater resilience against future crises.

Your generation’s action is all the more urgent as adolescents and young adults are most at risk for drug use.

Comprehensive, evidence-based and youth-driven prevention is crucial to counter this trend.

For many years, UNODC has been at the forefront of designing and implementing effective prevention strategies.

We developed the International Standards on Drug Use Prevention, the second edition of which has been published jointly with WHO in 2018.

I know that your facilitators at the Youth Forum have introduced you to this important document, which identifies the main features of successful drug prevention systems.

With the Standards as our guide, we work with Member States to promote science-based and age-responsive approaches.

We collaborate with educators, policy makers, healthcare workers, and families to implement effective substance use prevention.

Under our UNODC Youth Initiative, we have worked with youth from over 110 countries since 2012, and we are pleased to see you join this network and commit to enabling science- and human rights-driven prevention efforts in your countries.

Successful prevention efforts rely on involving a range of stakeholders. During the Youth Forum, you will learn about UNODC’s family skills programme packages, which help reinforce protective factors against drug use for those living in stressful and low-income settings, and which have benefitted 95,000 parents and youth in 33 countries since 2010.

You will also hear about our school- and community-based prevention programmes, which we hope you can leverage within your own communities at home.

Under the Youth Initiative, and working with the Drug Abuse Prevention Centre in Japan, UNODC also awards grants to youth organizations in low- and middle-income countries, helping them scale up prevention and health promotion activities for the benefit of their peers.

We encourage you to consider applying for one of the grants, using your learnings from this programme.

Youth empowerment is a vital dimension of the new UNODC Strategy for the years 2021 to 2025, and we are committed to actively promoting youth ownership of prevention efforts and supporting young people around the world who are making a difference.

We have developed a wide array of resources for young people, gathered on a new webpage which highlights all of UNODC’s youth work, including the UNODC Youth Initiative and Youth Forum 2021.

One of my favourite examples of our fruitful collaboration with you is the UNODC Handbook on Youth Participation in Drug Prevention Work.

The Handbook was developed at the urging of the participants of the Youth Forum 2018, written with young people, UNODC and other experts, and launched at last year’s CND.

We will be very interested to hear your feedback, during a dedicated session at this Forum, on how you can best use the Handbook to engage with your stakeholders.

I am very proud of the way in which UNODC has worked with young people to create the Handbook, and I believe that a key role of the Youth Forum is to build and strengthen a vibrant community which can help decision-makers unleash the potential of youth participation, for health and well-being.

A major outcome of this Forum will be the statement which you will develop and deliver to delegates at the 64th session of the CND next month.

This is a unique opportunity to collaborate on a document which reflects the ideas of this diverse group, and make your voices heard by policy makers.

We will support you as you embark on this important task.

I place a lot of hope in our partnership with you to build a more inclusive and fairer future, and I am grateful for your engagement for the benefit of your own generation, and of the next generations to come.

Thank you, and I wish you a productive Forum.