There are 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10–19 in the world today and nearly 90 per cent of these girls and boys live in low- and middle-income countries. Realizing the rights of these adolescents, and investing in their development, contributes to the full participation of adolescents and young people in a nation’s life, a competitive labour force, sustained economic growth, improved governance and vibrant civil societies, accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Adolescence is a defining time in the development of a child that is characterized by rapid physical growth and neurological sculpting, the onset of puberty and sexual maturity. It is a critical period for individual identity development when young people are figuring out who they want to be in the world; an opportunity for growth, exploration and creativity. Positive social relationships and environments enhance feelings of inclusion and belonging and lead to positive outcomes. Negative experiences, on the other hand, that increase fear, self-doubt or social isolation, can get amplified during this vulnerable period of development, leading to a cascade of negative and even pathological outcomes as young people grow into adulthood.
When adolescents, including the most disadvantaged, are supported by caring families and adults, as well as policies and services attentive to their needs, they can develop to their full potential.
Over the past 70 years, UNICEF has helped its partners address the most urgent issues affecting children. Today, more children are surviving to their fifth birthday and enrolling in primary school than ever before. As we seek to realize the ambition of the transformative SDG agenda and address the unfinished business in the first decade of a child’s life, we are also compelled to do more to address their second decade.
UNICEF has been programming with and for adolescents for many years, addressing adolescent development largely through education; HIV prevention and treatment; nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); and social and child protection. This guidance document builds on existing UNICEF programming and makes adjustments to cover identified gaps. It seeks to increase coherence, scale up results and establish priorities and guiding principles in support of country and regional offices. While the primary target audience of this document is UNICEF staff, it also provides partners with an overview of the strategic direction of UNICEF on the second decade of a child’s life.
Specifically, the Guidance does the following:
• Provide a vision for the commitments made to adolescent girls and boys in the context of the SDGs, along with results and targets;
• Identify implementation strategies, delivery platforms, partnerships and organizational arrangements needed to achieve sectoral and cross-sectoral results for adolescents in the context of different regions and countries.