Publication Date
April 1, 2012

"As the 10th edition of UNICEF [The United Nations Children's Fund]’s Progress for Children shows, this report card is mixed. For while we have made significant progress for millions of children over the last decades - reducing child mortality, increasing the number of children enrolled in primary school, expanding access to health care services - our efforts have left behind far too many adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19."

This edition of Progress for Children uses data and its analysis to illustrate who adolescents are, where they live, what they do, what their problems are and how their needs are - or are not - being met - in order to understand adolescents "in all their diversity" as a fundamental step to improving their lives. [Footnotes are removed by the editor.]

The analysis of information and communication technology (ICT) includes data on media: Among adolescents who do use media, the most common form is television, with more than half of all boys and girls aged 15-19 in developing countries watching television at least once a week (28% of girls and 15% of boys do not watch television).

"Overall, the available data suggest that Internet use is more likely with higher income and education, and more men than women use the technology in both industrialized and developing countries. Data also indicate a deep urban/rural divide, with urban dwellers more likely to log on. Internet use is also more common among people who are currently in school... In a few countries for which these data are further disaggregated by age group, youth aged 15-24 are generally more likely to use the Internet than adolescents aged 10-14....Young people’s use of social media such as Facebook, Orkut in Brazil and India, RenRen in China and VK in the Russian Federation has grown exponentially over the past few years.

In South Africa, nearly half the 44 million users of the MXit mobile phone-based network are aged 18-25, and fully one quarter are aged 13-17....The use of ICTs can enable access to information, foster the expression of ideas on a large scale and help adolescents connect with others; but it carries such risks as exposure to inappropriate content, unwelcome contact from others or the possibility of engaging in inappropriate conduct themselves. It is necessary to support children’s capacity to cope with such risks, thereby building their resilience as digital citizens."

The document discusses data collection and illustrates, via graphs, much of the results of data analysis on adolescents, including on: nutrition - both undernutrition and obesity; violence; health and the HIV burden; adolescent child bearing; drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; disease and mental health; literacy and education completion (including gender parity in secondary education); and child marriage.

Marginalised groups are often those most affected by problems such as HIV, yet they are difficult to reach for evidence. "Respondent-driven sampling, developed to collect information from hard-to-reach groups - including injecting drug users in Moldova, Romania and Serbia and sex workers in Romania - has been used with marginalized young people who could not be found within formal structures. Other data collection methods (such as time-location sampling) have also proved effective in reaching the hard to reach in this and other regions."

The document recommends a focus on several groups who are most marginalised and at risk of further deprivation, among them:

  • Married adolescent girls;
  • Adolescent victims of violence;
  • Younger adolescents out of school;
  • Adolescents with HIV;
  • Adolescents without access to information: Millions of adolescents, particularly girls, still do not have access to ICT, which further excludes and marginalises them. ICT is a strong influence in adolescent lives and a potential tool to empower them in their civic participation and activism; and
  • Adolescents without access to services.

Based upon data, particularly analysis of the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), the way forward suggests a six-pronged approach:

  1. "Adopt a life-cycle approach.
  2.  View adolescence through an equity lens: Policies and programmes to reach the most vulnerable groups of adolescents must be informed by data disaggregated by age, gender, wealth, residence status, and family status. 
  3. Make better use of data: More and better use must be made of the full range of available data to inform programmatic and policy decision-making and advocacy.
  4. Approach adolescents intersectorally.
  5. Develop services to address the specific needs of adolescents: There are many examples of youth-friendly services that can be studied and evaluated for potential expansion and replication.
  6. Recognize adolescents' potential as agents of change."

Points in the case for investment in adolescence include:

  • "Adolescents' ability to voice their concerns and aspirations helps them protect themselves as they emerge into adulthood.
  • Many factors surrounding children and adolescents help create a protective environment around them. But having at least one strong relationship with a caring adult may be the single most important factor in a child’s positive development.
  • Secondary education must be relevant to students’ lives and linked to local economies. Girls, in particular, must acquire the skills that will help them earn their livelihoods and become productive members of society.
  • A further challenge is to address the prevailing social and cultural norms and practices that constrain the healthy development of millions of adolescents. These include harmful traditional practices such as child marriage, attitudes that justify and condone violence, and behaviours that drive the spread of HIV. All of these must be changed through sustained efforts that actively involve adolescents and other stakeholders."

A statistical table presenting the key statistics on adolescents follows the text.

A Report Card on Adolescents

UNICEF website, January 29 2013.