UNITED NATIONS (AP) — International migration is becoming a key issue in the lives of young people with the latest preliminary data revealing that nearly 35 million migrants are under the age of 20, the United Nations said Monday.
UNICEF Deputy Director Christian Salazar said the data collected by the U.N. children's agency and the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs showed that 62 percent of the young people are living in developing countries.
"Whether alone or with their families, adolescents and youth are increasingly migrating in search of employment, education, cultural advantages and better living standards," he said at a special U.N. event on youth migration to commemorate International Youth Day on Monday.
"But for many young people migration represents also a way out of insecurity, discrimination or abuse," he said.
Salazar and other speakers stressed, however, that there is little data available to assess the real situations and needs of young migrants including their health, education, degree of exploitation and discrimination, and social inclusion.
Salazar said the limited information available shows that girls migrate in almost the same number as boys and that migration between developing countries is running at almost the same level as migration from developing countries to industrialized nations.
Charles Dan, the International Labor Organization's special representative on youth and social inclusion, said 214 million people are living outside their country of birth today — "more than at any time in history."
"Almost half of these international migrants are women," he said. "And one in eight is a young migrant aged 15 to 24."
Dan said the global youth unemployment crisis is currently driving millions of young people "to think about or decide to migrate."
Worldwide, he said, four out of 10 unemployed people are young women and men, and many more are underemployed or "working poor," with 228 million young people earning less than US $2 a day.
Dan warned that young people who migrate can face poor working conditions, discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or religion. In the worst cases, they can be subjected to human trafficking and forced labor, he said.
"For young people, migration should be a possibility, not a necessity," Dan said.
Jean-Pierre Gonnot of the U.N. Departmant of Economic and Social Affairs said that in 2010, there were an estimated 27 million international young migrants.
He said migration is taking place "against the backdrop of an unprecedented demographic divide — an aging industrialized world and a youthful developing world."
"Industrialized nations need young migrants to replenish their aging labor force," he said, "developing countries also need the talents of their most skilled youth to meet the challenges of economic growth in ever more competitive, globally integrated capital and labor markets."
Gonnot said receiving countries want to harness the benefits from the migration of young people while sending countries seek to maximize the social and economic impact of the remittances they send home.
Chris Richter of the International Organization for Migration, said migration is a driver of economic growth and "young migrants are particularly powerful agents of change and development" because they provide remittances and skills and promote knowledge sharing between countries and regions.
He urged "safe and regular migration" to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse.