Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Launch Ceremony of the “Regional Network of Youth Organizations and Youth Champions of Change in Central Asia for Drug Free, Healthy, Safe and Secure Societies”

  25 November 2021


Dear Youth Network Members,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Congratulations on the launch of the Civil society – UNODC Youth Network in Central Asia, and on the powerful statement which we just heard.

This is an exciting moment, and I am very pleased to address youth leaders from the region, as you join forces and scale up your efforts for evidence-based substance use prevention.

You have worked hard, throughout the National Youth Consultations undertaken in all five Central Asian countries, to lay the groundwork for the new network. I am proud of you, and I thank you for your commitment.

I am grateful to Uzbekistan for hosting this event, and to the Russian Federation for its financial support.

For 10 years now, Russia has been a key supporter of the UNODC Youth Forum, which takes place annually on the margins of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna.

Over the years, the Forum has brought together young people from some 100 countries engaged in preventing youth drug use. Through this regular engagement we have developed a thriving global community of advocates for health.

These young people have presented statements to the CND every year, informing the work of Member States, and they co-wrote the UNODC Handbook on Youth Participation in Drug Prevention Work with our office.

Launched in 2020, the Handbook is an excellent guide for decision-makers on collaborating with youth for effective prevention policies and action.

These experiences show that engaged young people have the ability to make a difference for their peers.

I am convinced that the new Youth Network in Central Asia can help young people in the region pursue healthy and productive lives, at a time when this support is needed more than ever.

Young people have been hit hard by the COVID crisis. Since the start of the pandemic, over 130 million schoolchildren globally have missed more than three quarters of their in-person learning time, and millions are still out of school.

Youth have also been twice as likely as older employees to lose their jobs. Isolation, poverty, and the lack of perspectives have been the legacy of the pandemic, with negative consequences for young people’s psychological resilience, and increased vulnerability to substance use.

UNICEF recently called for more investment in holistic approaches focusing on young people’s physical and mental health, as part of COVID-19 recovery plans.

These efforts should go hand in hand with initiatives to raise youth awareness of the true dangers of drugs, and support informed decision-making based on facts.

I count on the enthusiasm, commitment, and creativity of the members of the new Youth Network to share facts on drugs, bridge perception gaps, and help ensure that their peers are well equipped to choose health.

UNODC is with you every step of the way.

We want to hear your ideas on how we can best reach young people with the right information, engage them in policy dialogues and decision-making processes, amplify their voices, and help countries fully leverage the power of youth for building a healthier and safer world.

I am encouraged to see that in your discussions, you are making connections between efforts to prevent drug use and to strengthen resilience against violence, crime, and corruption.

On all these fronts, UNODC is your partner in developing comprehensive prevention approaches which empower young people.

Enabling youth participation is a key commitment of the UNODC Strategy for 2021-2025 across all of our programmes, with a special focus on leveraging the potential of young people as innovators and agents of change.

We have supported youth around the world, including in Central Asia, with programmes to develop life skills and prevent youth crime through sport.

Next month, we will also be launching the GRACE initiative on youth education against corruption.

I invite you to follow our work in this field, and I will ask the UNODC coordinators working with the Youth Network to share information on all our relevant initiatives with you.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In Central Asia, more than half of the population is under 30 years old. If the right investments in youth are made today, this generation can elevate the region, and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Preventing drug use, crime, and violence among youth is an essential part of this journey.

I am grateful to the Governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and to the young people from these countries, for their engagement with UNODC.

I thank the Youth Network members for leading the way, caring about their peers, and shaping a better future. You inspire us all, and you have UNODC’s full support.

Thank you.