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adolescence moving up on the agenda

March 2, 2011


The 2011 version of UNICEF’s annual report on the State of the World’s Children was released last week and entitled ‘Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity’. The focus on adolescents, and especially adolescent girls, as a special interest group amongst children is gaining momentum with an increasing number of initiatives and projects. DFID and Nike Foundation have been at the forefront of this with their Girl Hub promoting the Girl Effect and also the World Bank has a special programme entitled The Adolescent Girls Initiative. UNICEF has now also picked up on this trend by focusing their flagship publication on adolescents as potential for development but also its inherent challenges.

One of the issues highlighted in UNICEF’s publication is the lack of information and data around issues of adolescence. Its standard household survey MICS, for example, is limited in collecting information around issues imperative to gaining insight into the crucial aspects of the life of an adolescent, including violence, mental health, peer relations and disability. A forthcoming publication in Child Indicators Research that I prepared for last year’s UNICEF/New School conference on adolescent girls in New York picks up on that point and aimed to investigate the usability of MICS to study poverty and well-being amongst adolescent girls in Vietnam. Although information is collected around reproductive health and knowledge about HIV, information gaps were wide and deep. More specific data collection is required, not only pertaining to subjective measures of well-being, peer relations and psychological development but also about time use of adolescents. The data might tell us that they are neither in school or in work but fails to provide insight into how they do actually spend their day. Having said that, a specific focus on adolescence might be justified and worthwhile as they have been left out of consideration and largely neglected in the debate surrounding poverty, well-being and larger developmen issues, there is also a risk that an exclusive focus on this specific group will only reinforce or exacerbate their marginalized position. Especially in the case of adolescent girls, we need to include the boys and men as well as their larger living environment (i.e. household and community) to get a comprehensive picture and adequate response for the improvement of the living situation.

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