The number of young people aged between 10 and 19 has reached an peak at 1.2 billion, or nearly a fifth of the total world population, United Nations figures showed yesterday.
But Dr Thoraya Obaid, head of the UN Population Fund, said the biggest young generation in history faces unprecedented dangers from Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases, early marriage and pregnancy, broken homes, drug use, violence and sex slavery.
Presenting the UN's annual State of the World Population report for 2003 in London, Dr Obaid called on governments to recognise the scale of the crisis facing young people.
World population is 6.3 billion and is predicted by the UN to peak at 8.9 billion by 2050, but could reach 11 billion if family planning services are not widely taken up.
But the reproductive rate of the average woman across the world is already falling and is now below three (from nearly six not very long ago), so the present generation of teenagers will probably be the largest. Dr Obaid's statistics show that it may also be the most troubled.
* Poverty: 238m young people currently survive on less than a dollar a day, the UN definition of extreme poverty.
* Education: there are 153m young people who cannot read or write, two-thirds of them female. "The good news is that this gender gap is closing," said Dr Obaid. "The bad news is that sometimes it is closing because neither boys nor girls are getting an education."
* Health: HIV/Aids has already produced 13 million orphans under the age of 15, and Aids has become a disease of young people: half of all new HIV infections occur among young people aged 15 to 24. An estimated 6,000 adolescents a day become infected - one every 14 seconds - the majority of them young women.
* Unwanted pregnancies : up to half of all pregnancies are unintended, and among unmarried young people the figure is much higher. Girls in their late teenage years are twice as likely as adults to die during pregnancy and childbirth. About 14 million women aged 15 to 19 give birth every year.
* Homelessness: there may be as many as 100 million teenagers living outside family protection.
* Sexual slavery: up to four million young people are thought to become involved in sex trafficking every year.
Governments are still falling short of the funding they have promised the UN Population Fund, Dr Obaid added. Total expenditure should be nearly $18.5bn (£11.1bn), yet it is less than $10bn, and less than $3bn of that is from developed countries. Britain donates £25m a year to tackle the issues, of which £18m goes to the UNFPA.
The report said 44 of the 107 countries surveyed did not include Aids education in their school curricula.Reuse content