If all one had seen of the world's youth were the pelvis-thrusters on MTV and the pubescent darlings of Teen Beat, one might wonder whether they had just arrived from hell in a handbasket. Images of Britney Spears, Eminem and black-hooded protesters rampaging through the streets of the world's capitals may be cause for concern, but the publicity tends to be grabbed by young people in rebellion against authority. Anna Halpine and her fellow members of the World Youth Alliance (WYA) are pursuing a very different path. Rather than parade before the television cameras with amorphous grievances that were cliches before Lenin discovered Marx, the WYA is harnessing youthful idealism to work worldwide to protect human life and the dignity of every person.
Here is a human-rights campaign that is as modern as today's science. Consider the issue of human cloning, only now beginning to become possible and a subject of grave concern. Halpine, WYA's president, tells INSIGHT the group conferred on behalf of the more than 1 million young people it represents, studied the issue carefully and warned the United Nations on their behalf that "to affirm and respect the dignity of all human beings" there must be a total ban on cloning. And WYA's views were cited in the Oct. 17 statement delivered by Sichan Siv, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council on the International Convention Against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings.
The WYA has grown exponentially since its inception in 1999, bringing together youth representatives from more than 100 countries, and now works directly at the United Nations and the European Union to further its human-rights goals. Halpine, a native of Canada, sat down with INSIGHT in Washington to discuss the real-life concerns of international youth.
INSIGHT: The WYA now is three years old. What was the inspiration for creating so ambitious an effort?
ANNA HALPINE: I was attending a U.N. conference on population and development in New York. The United Nations itself brought 32 young people into the conference to participate. But it quickly became apparent to the rest of us that the majority of U.N.-selected delegates were caught up in politically correct nostrums and not interested in engaging basic issues confronting most of the world's youth--issues such as potable water, human dignity, basic health care, education and human rights. I was with a handful of young people who felt the issues being discussed did not represent our concerns. So we went in the next day with a letter laying out an agenda addressing our concerns and presented it to the delegates. For two hours the conference stalled, and in that time the world divided.
The representatives of the developed nations clustered around the population-control ideas of the Clinton administration, which was in office at the time, and the developing nations, struggling to free themselves of oppression, poverty and disease, came to us one by one and said, "Thank you. Thank you for being here. Please come into our countries and work with our young people." And that really was the beginning of the World Youth Alliance.
Q: There certainly is a divide between the living conditions and concerns of the developing and underdeveloped nations. Do you see the narcissistic social concerns of the developed nations overriding the practical needs and mores of poorer countries?
A: Within the World Youth Alliance we focus everything we do on promoting the dignity of the human person. That is our core principle, and it is very compelling to the developing nations. I am just returning from a month in Africa where we met with many young people, thousands of them from all over the continent, and what they were saying was not "Come finance our abortions and birth control," but, "Come work with us, help us build our nations, help us build democracies on sound moral principles. …