Adolescents and youth
Adolescents contribute to society in countless, influential ways. They publish newspapers and magazines, run businesses, and serve as leaders in schools and communities. Some manage households; some care for younger siblings or ailing parents. Many work long days in factories and in fields.
Bursting with vitality, curiosity and spirit, young people have the potential to help advance the world.
In this period of their lives, they try out new ideas and new experiences. They engage with others through new technologies, embracing social media. They take risks and some are more extreme, which could start them into a downward spiral. There is great protential for them to educate their peers about life's challenges and the dangers of high-risk behaviour: about protecting themselves from diseases such as HIV and AIDS, for example. They can help others like themselves break cycles of violence and discrimination. They can also help promote healthy lifestyles.
UNICEF works with and for adolescents to involve them in life-affirming activities. When they are appreciated as sources of energy, imagination and passion, young people flourish and so their communities flourish.
Young people have the right to be involved in the decisions that affect them. The more they participate in decisions, the more they develop confidence, skills and aspirations. And the more they are involved in development programmes, the more effective these programmes become.
Young people in our region are putting the reforms of the 1990s to the test as the first generation to be educated, to search for work, to vote and express their opinions in a new landscape. The changes of recent years have opened up new opportunities for them, but they also face new risks. They must contend with poverty, unemployment levels that are three times higher than among the adult population and the trafficking of drugs and human beings. Many of their problems are the problems that face the entire region.
At the same time, they are the region’s most valuable asset. Dynamic and creative, they are forging ahead in business, in political life, in NGOS and in the media and are the driving force of regional economic and social progress. Their full participation in decision-making is essential. The participation of citizens in decision-making is a relatively new concept in the region. The participation of young people even more so.
Giving voice to young people
UNICEF supports a range of programmes to give young people a voice in the region. There are Youth Parliaments and Forums in a number of countries, including Albania, Georgia and Turkey, giving young elected delegates the chance to debate issues and draw up civic and social plans of action. There are young people taking an active part in UNICEF programmes, particularly in HIV/AIDS, where the most successful prevention initiatives are designed and implemented by young people themselves, with UNICEF offering support and guidance.
Digital citizenship and online safety is an emerging issue as the region`s young people become one of the most connected and often conversing in their local language. Turkey and Russia are among the fastest growing young online communities.
There is the Young People’s Media Network (YPMN), which aims to create a network of young people across the region who will be tomorrow's journalists and, very importantly, opinion-makers. YPMN links hundreds of young people's media projects with NGOs, media organizations and regional or international agencies that support such projects. It supports the production of One-Minute Juniors – 60-second videos on child rights themes created by young people, and the MAGIC website – a showcase for youth media ideas.
And UNICEF supports the participation of children and young people in the development of National Plans of Action (NPAs) and their implementation. There is growing evidence that this improves the impact of NPAs while encouraging the young to take responsibility for their lives and communities.
Updated July 2012
Resources on youth participation