Prague, 11 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- As a young doctor, Ihor Rudenko is used to helping others.
But the 24-year-old Ukrainian faces some daunting problems of his own. His low salary means he has to take on extra work -- and that's taking him away from choosing a specialization and continuing his studies.
"Because I have to work a lot, I pay too little attention to medicine," says Rudenko, who works in a library to make some extra money. "If I worked abroad, like in Norway, where doctors are earning up to 200,000 euros a year, then all my free time I would put in to studying medicine. Because I'm forced to work, I have to postpone my postgraduate studies."
Ukraine has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the former Soviet Union, with more than 62,000 cases.
Poverty, conflict, poor health care -- the problems young people like Rudenko face differ across the world. But what links them is a common aspiration -- a better future.
Half the world's population is under 25. This includes the largest-ever generation of adolescents now approaching adulthood -- 1.2 billion.
There are more than 31,000 disabled children and teenagers in Belarus.
Ten years ago, the UN's General Assembly called on governments to help improve their lot. Its World Program of Action for Youth urged countries to ensure a decent education and job opportunities for its young people, to lift them out of poverty and protect their health.
In Russia, young people (16-30) make up a quarter of the poor population.
Five years later, leaders agreed on another set of goals important for youth -- the "millennium development goals" with targets to cut world poverty and improve child health and education.
Charlotte van Hees of the UN's youth program in New York says there have been some improvements. "There's been a good amount of progress in education, there are more young people in school now than ever before," she says. "So that's great progress."
350,000 young people in Azerbaijan are refugees or internally displaced.
But formidable challenges remain. The UN estimates that more than 100 million school-aged children -- particularly girls -- are not in school.
In Uzbekistan, one-fifth of the population lives on less than $1 a day.
More than 500 million young people live on less than $2 a day. Every day, almost 30,000 children die of poverty.
Each year, early marriage and childbirth disrupts the education and endangers the health of millions of teenage girls. And 7,000 young people are infected with HIV/AIDS each day.
19 percent of women in Kyrgyzstan are married before they turn 18.
Unemployment is another concern. In Iran, for example, two-thirds of the population are 30 or younger. More than 20 percent of them are unemployed.
Van Hees of the UN says unemployment of young people is the highest it's every been in the world. "This goes for all regions," she adds. "Young people are the worst affected by unemployment. In some regions, young people are very well-educated, but the labor market is not equipped or big enough to cater to them or to facilitate jobs for them."
In Turkmenistan, university enrollment has dropped from 40,000 in the 1990s to 3,000 in 2004.
Young people, moreover, also face discrimination in the labor market. Since they are usually the last to be hired, they are the first to be fired following an economic downturn.
"Also there's a transition from manufacturing, which had a lot of labor to it, which has now been taken over by machines and computers, so there's a lot of loss in labor opportunities as well," van Hees says.
Just 36 percent of the population of Afghanistan knows how to read and write.
This year the UN sees Youth Day as a chance to look at what's been achieved over the last few years -- and to urge governments to live up to their commitments to young people.
Next month, world leaders meet at the UN's 2005 World Summit to review progress in reaching the millennium goals.
Then in early October, the General Assembly will review the youth action program 10 years later.
In Iraq, 64 percent of rural women over 15 have not completed elementary education.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called the world summit a once-in-a-generation chance to address some of the most pressing challenges of our era. He's asking young people to speak out. Their voices, he says, "can hold leaders to their pledges."
(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)
According to research by the Asian Development Bank and UNICEF, there are now more than 70,000 school-age children in Kyrgyzstan working to earn money for their families instead of attending school. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondent Jannat Toktosunova went to the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek to meet some of these children:Also see:
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