Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director

UN General Assembly High-Level Debate on enhancing youth mainstreaming in crime prevention policies

  New York, 6 June 2022 


Your Excellency Mr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the General Assembly,


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to address this High-Level Debate of the General Assembly on Mainstreaming Youth in Crime Prevention.

It is a very timely discussion. Today’s youth are confronted with crises and anxieties that threaten their hopes and future prospects.

Yet time and again, I have seen young people stepping up to overcome challenges with true solidarity.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great”.

We need the courage and conviction of youth now more than ever.

From conflicts to the climate emergency and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world we are leaving future generations feels more fragile and less secure than ever.

A fragile world is a world more vulnerable to crime. Hardship and instability create the conditions for crime, violence, violent extremism, and corruption to flourish, and they hold back young people in every way.

The rule of law is under threat around the world, and the values, conditions, and opportunities that young people need to thrive are undermined.

In his report on “Our Common Agenda”, the Secretary-General laid out a new vision for the rule of law in support of the SDGs, one built on improving trust between people and institutions.

“Our Common Agenda” also puts the role of youth front and centre, highlighting the need to listen to and work with young people, and better understand the impact of our actions on future generations.

Such a long-term vision is our best hope, and it can only succeed if we invest in young people, and they in turn are invested in changing their world for the better, and making it safer for all.

Youth are often victimized by crime, subjected to violence, targeted for exploitation, and recruited by unlawful groups. Desperation and frustration leave young people at greater risk.

Access to opportunities is the only way to give young people the choice, voice, and agency they need to reject crime.

Yet hundreds of millions of young people have no access to learning. Pandemic school closures are estimated to have affected more than 1.6 billion learners – one billion of them in low-and middle-income countries.

We need to commit to educating every girl and boy. Through formal and informal education and skills training, we can instil young people with the values of integrity and respect for the rule of law, which represent the building blocks of prosperous societies and the first line of defence against crime.

Crime prevention is about addressing risk factors that individuals and communities are exposed to. It is about striving to do better in the future, to break cycles of offending and reoffending.

Youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system should be treated with compassion, with alternatives to the deprivation of liberty considered where possible.

Victim support schemes and rehabilitation programmes are important to give young people a way back when they have been involved in or affected by crime.

Furthermore, we must listen to and amplify the voices of young people in the discussion on crime prevention, on the level of communities, countries, and here at the UN.

On this note, I want to thank the Secretary-General’s Youth Envoy for her efforts in maintaining an open dialogue with youth, and for her support towards establishing the first UNODC Youth Integrity Advisory Board.

I am also pleased that we have a youth leader like Mr. Pabon with us at the opening segment of this debate.

We must continue to facilitate youth participation and take their insights and proposals seriously. They have a right to be part of the solution.

Youth have the greatest capacity for optimism and open-mindedness.

They are far less likely to be hindered by bias or cynicism, which makes them uniquely capable of innovation and problem-solving.

When it comes to long-standing, chronic challenges like crime, fresh minds and fresh perspectives can lead to real progress.

The UN World Youth Report has highlighted the positive impact on good governance that young social enterprises can have by taking a stand against corruption, particularly in countries with weak institutions.

Policymakers must channel this priceless resource, by meaningfully engaging young people in different roles and capacities.

Consult them in the design and implementation of crime prevention policies and programmes.

Empower them to speak out, to raise awareness against crime and harmful behaviours, and to engage with law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals to discuss problems and solutions.

Young people are the most effective ambassadors and messengers in reaching their peers, on social media, at school and in their communities.  

Let them take charge of their own initiatives, whether to address bullying or to support rehabilitation programmes for those released from detention.

A special word on the potential of young girls: girls face greater obstacles to education and opportunities, and greater risks of gender-based violence, exploitation, and abuse. Yet the promise that they hold for justice is also exceptional.

Women remain underrepresented in the justice sector, despite the fact that their inclusion has been shown to improve criminal justice outcomes.

By protecting, involving, and empowering young girls, we can inspire them to be leaders in justice and safety at local, national, and global level.

At the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, we are committed to empowering young women and men, to realize their potential and help their communities.

The meaningful participation and empowerment of youth is one of three cross-cutting commitments of our UNODC corporate strategy.

Youth empowerment is also one of the key change enablers in our Strategic Vision for Africa, which acts as the framework for our interventions in the world’s youngest continent, and in our new Strategic Vision for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Through our technical assistance, UNODC helps Member States address the root causes of crime and give young people around the world the tools they need to make a difference.

We provide cognitive behavioural skills training, family-skills training, and employability training for at-risk youth, and we promote school-based awareness initiatives, the creation of safe public spaces, and social reintegration programmes for offenders.

Through our GRACE initiative, we are promoting transparency, accountability, and integrity through education.

UNODC is also helping countries leverage the power of sport to prevent crime and engage youth, especially in marginalized settings.

In all of these interventions, we count on the support of Member States to truly bring young people to the forefront of efforts to prevent crime and corruption, and involve them in the design, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programmes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The first step to mainstreaming youth in crime prevention is to recognize young people as a genuine force for positive change, and to have the humility to listen to them and follow their lead.

Guided by the voices and contributions of young people, we can foster greater respect for the rule of law, and ensure better justice outcomes for youth and for everyone.

This debate is an opportunity to discuss how the UN and Member States can take meaningful, practical steps to better mobilize youth to help shape effective public policies to prevent crime, including forms of crime and violence that are harming girls and holding them back.

It is an opportunity to engage, enable, and equip youth to act as today’s conscience and agents of transformation, and tomorrow’s decisionmakers, for a safer, more just world, leaving no one behind.

Thank you.