(HN, February 25, 2011) - While the world has seen impressive gains for young children, there have been too few gains in areas critically affecting adolescents.
More than seventy million adolescents of lower secondary age are currently out of school, and on a global level girls still lag behind boys in secondary school participation.
The findings are contained in the State of the World's Children Report (SOWC) - the flagship publication of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) released today. There are currently 1.2-billion adolescents - which the UN defines as anyone 10-19 years old - in the world today, and most are in Africa.
The demographic group has become much more visible due to the "youth bulge" in most regions - especially the Middle East and North Africa. Many find that by the time they reach working age, there are no jobs or few opportunities for waiting for them.
In fact, the continent has the largest proportion of children, adolescents and young people in the world. Almost half its population is younger than 18 years and almost two-thirds are younger than 25 years.
In Nairobi, UNICEF's regional director for eastern and southern Africa, Elhadj As Sy, said: "As the gap between rich and poor, men and women, urban and rural keeps widening, and inequality generates a 'nothing to lose' generation, paying more attention to adolescents and young people is especially critical for the African nations. ."
The report argues that without education, adolescents cannot develop the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the risks of exploitation, abuse and violence that are at height during the second decade of life.
In Brazil for example, UNICEF says the lives of 26,000 children under one were saved between 1998 and 2008, leading to a sharp decrease in infant mortality. In the same decade 81,000 Brazilian adolescents aged 15-19 were murdered.
“We need to focus more attention now on reaching adolescents -- especially adolescent girls -- investing in education, health and other measures to engage them in the process of improving their own lives," said UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake.
The vast majority of today’s adolescents (88 per cent) live in developing countries. Many face a unique set of challenges. Although adolescents around the world are generally healthier today than in the past, many health risks remain significant, including injuries, eating disorders, substance abuse and mental health issues; it is estimated that around 1 in every 5 adolescents suffers from a mental health or behavioural problem, according to the SOWC.
With 81 million young people out of work globally in 2009, youth unemployment remains a concern in almost every country. An increasingly technological labour market requires skills that many young people do not possess. This not only results in a waste of young people’s talents, but also in a lost opportunity for the communities in which they live, UNICEF says. In many countries large teenage populations are a unique demographic asset that is often overlooked. By investing in adolescent education and training, countries can reap a large and productive workforce, contributing significantly to the growth of national economies.
Adolescents face numerous global challenges both today and in the future, among them the current bout of economic turmoil, climate change and environmental degradation, explosive urbanization and migration, aging societies, the rising costs of healthcare, and escalating humanitarian crises.
“Adolescence is a pivot point – an opportunity to consolidate the gains we have made in early childhood or risk seeing those gains wiped out,” said Lake.
The choice of adolescents for this year's SOWC is a departue from UNICEF's long-standing focus on child survival - child and maternal health. UNICEF argues impressive gains have been made in that phase of the life cycle. UNICEF says there has been a 33% drop in the global under-five mortality rate.
"This shows that many more young lives have been saved, in most of the world ‘s regions girls are almost as likely as boys to go to primary school, and millions of children now benefit from improved access to safe water and critical medicines such as routine vaccinations."
Adolescents face numerous global challenges both today and in the future, UNICEF says, among them the current bout of economic turmoil, climate change and environmental degradation, explosive urbanization and migration, aging societies, the rising costs of healthcare, and escalating humanitarian crises.
To enable adolescents to effectively deal with these challenges, targeted investments in the following key areas are necessary:
- Improving data collection to increase the understanding of adolescents’ situation and meet their rights;
- Investing in education and training so that adolescents have the means to lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to their national economies;
- Expanding opportunities for youth to participate and voice their opinion, for example in national youth councils, youth forums, community service initiatives, online activism and other avenues which enable adolescents to make their voices heard.
- Promoting laws, policies and programs that protect the rights of adolescents and enable them to overcome barriers to essential services;
- Stepping up the fight again poverty and inequity through child sensitive programs to prevent adolescents from being prematurely catapulted into adulthood.
- HUMNEWS staff, UNICEF