Poor health comes in the way of the physical and mental growth of children, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Tuesday stressing on the need to "protect, preserve and promote" the health of the young.
Inaugurating the first Global Youth Meet on Health in the capital, Singh stressed: "Health is also a fundamental human right. While every citizen of the world must enjoy this right, it is even more important to respect and uphold this right for children who are among the most vulnerable segments of any society. No civilized society can shirk this duty.
"The physical and mental growth of children and adolescents is greatly hampered by ill health. Their performance and productivity are also substantially diminished, now and in later life, if they do not enjoy good health. Nations too will suffer the consequences of their citizens being unhealthy.
"Just as poverty contributes to ill health, poor health perpetuates poverty. It is, therefore, essential that all societies do their utmost to protect, preserve and promote the health of their young people."
Quoting a UN estimate, Singh said: "Nearly 900 million people in the world are undernourished. Nearly one third of the children in developing countries remain undernourished or stunted".
He also emphasised on environmental changes and its impact on human health.
"Global warming threatens famines, floods, epidemics and ecological disarray that will severely compromise human health and may even lead to extinction of life on this planet. There are also a growing number of conflicts and terrorist attacks that threaten the peace and well-being of people in many parts of the world. Children and young persons are often the innocent victims of senseless and cruel violence."
On tackling AIDS, he said there was no more powerful weapon than education and awareness in fighting the disease. "The practice of safe sex is the most important deterrent against this pandemic."
Around 10,000 students and 270 delegates from 37 countries are in India to deliberate on issues ranging from smoking in schools to healthy gender relations at the five-day Global Youth Meet (GYM).
Appreciating the effort of the HRIDAY-SHAN, an NGO headed by eminent cardiologist K. Srinath Reddy, the prime minister said young people who are well informed and highly motivated can be effective change agents in society - influencing not only their peers but also adults.
Remembering Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, on his 117th birth anniversary Tuesday that is celebrated as Children's Day, Singh said, Nehru was very fond of children.
"I am sure he would have been happy to see young people like you meet and talk about serious issues concerning the well being of humans and our planet as a whole," he remarked.
After the inauguration at the National Stadium, the GYM will move to Agra from Nov 15 to 18. On Nov 19, the meet will conclude in Delhi with the launch of the Youth for Health (Y4H) campaign, which will enable youth from participating nations to exchange ideas on better health practices.
Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the US, Russia, Argentina, Italy, France, Denmark, Ghana, Fiji, Iran and Zambia are among countries participating in the event.