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July 16, 2023

Are We Prepared to Serve the Youngest Half of the Global Population?

By Ameena Razzaque (G’23), Student Fellow, Collaborative on Global Children's Issues

The world’s young people need attention.

More than half of the global population is under the age of 30. The median age on the continent of Africa is 19. It is the biggest child and youth population in history, with 90% living in less developed countries and disproportionately affected by poverty, poor health, unemployment, violence, and exclusion. Things are not getting easier for young people. UNICEF reports that COVID-19 has presented the greatest challenge faced by children in its 75-year history, derailing progress made over decades. An estimated one billion children are at extremely high risk of climate change impacts. In addition, millions of children and families are on the move—fleeing violence, natural disasters, and poverty—and seeking safety and protection across borders. Of the estimated 281 million international migrants globally, 50 million are children. Children are facing increased poverty, entrenched inequality, and other pressing concerns, including conflict, social injustice, and political instability. They bear the brunt of these difficulties in their daily lives and will inevitably inherit all of the problem-solving these challenges require.

Given this, one might expect children and youth to be a primary consideration in international development and foreign policy. Certainly, those of us who are preparing to enter the U.S. Foreign Service should be developing an awareness of how the world’s challenges affect the youngest half of the global population. As a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (SFS), I will join the ranks of the U.S. State Department as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer upon graduation. Am I adequately prepared to consider the largest child and youth population in history as I serve?

The United States is the only country in the world that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely accepted human rights treaty in the world. This is not something that was discussed in my foreign service training. In fact, during my two years at SFS as a master’s degree student, I could not find a class in my program that included a focus on children or youth.

In my second year as a graduate student, I was selected as a fellow with the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues. I conducted research to examine the extent to which issues affecting children and youth are incorporated into existing curricula across disciplines. I scanned current course offerings for SFS and other relevant departments and programs. My preliminary research indicated that the university, broadly and across multiple disciplines, currently lacks inclusion of children and youth in its curriculum. This gap can impact graduates’ preparedness as they begin their careers, where they will inevitably face complex and intersectional issues that naturally impact the youngest half of the global population. If the university is to take diversity and inclusion seriously, young people must factor into our curricula.

There is a direct correlation between education and training and the preparedness to tackle such issues in the workforce. For example, despite having developed foreign assistance strategies for children in adversity and youth in development, in 2022 the U.S. Department of State released a report recognizing that “control over financial reporting about children-related funds was a significant weakness.” The report also states that “department officials indicated that they had not implemented new controls to ensure that complete and accurate child fund data were available.” It is often said that we measure what we value and we value what we measure. If we are not trained to center children and youth in our foreign service training, programs, and policies, we miss opportunities to be accountable to the youngest half of the global population.

The School of Foreign Service’s mission is to be “a program at Georgetown dedicated to educating students on global issues and preparing them for lives of service in the international arena.” We have an opportunity to do more and better to ensure that graduates entering the foreign service are equipped to address global issues as they impact children and youth. For example, imagine if we:

  • Incorporate a rigorous focus on children and youth as part of a university commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in curriculum and training;
  • Ensure that core courses include some focus on the youngest half of the global population;
  • Recruit and retain leadership, faculty, staff, and research fellows to advance the university’s commitment to child-centered research and training;
  • Ensure that students, regardless of financial means, have the opportunity to pursue academic and professional interests related to global children/youth issues, working alongside leading faculty and practitioners in advancing research on and solutions for critical and emerging issues affecting young people globally; and
  • Use the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security as a model and create a Center on Global Child Rights and Protection within the School of Foreign Service, enabling students to pursue certificates and the Georgetown community to build effective bridges between stakeholders involved in practice, policy, and research on critical and emerging issues affecting children and youth globally.

If the institution moves in this direction, Georgetown could leverage its capacities across disciplines and its convening power to advance solutions-oriented problem-solving on the most pressing issues facing young people worldwide. In doing so, the university could prepare the next generation of global leaders to truly prioritize children’s well-being.

Ameena Razzaque (G’23) completed her master’s degree in Asian studies at the School of Foreign Service. As a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow, Razzaque joined the U.S. Department of State upon graduating from Georgetown University.