The majority of children living in Barbados and in the Eastern Caribbean have the opportunity to attend secondary school, which in most countries is compulsory up to the age of 16 years. Most of them attend government secondary schools, although a number of private, fee-paying secondary schools exist. Reseach as well as examination results indicate that teenage girls tend to academically out-perform their male counterparts at the secondary level.
Adolescents living in the Eastern Caribbean are generally physically and mentally healthy, however a growing number of them are exhibiting symptoms of emotional and behavioral disturbance. They are increasingly being forced to deal with violence, gender-based conflict, alcohol and drug abuse, HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), depression, anger, as well as negative school experiences.
Obesity is emerging as a problem among adolescents. This is largely attributed to high-fat diets associated with modern convenience foods, in conjunction with a lack of exercise and more sedentary lifestyle. Drug and alcohol use is becoming an escalating problem as both are relatively easily available. Research indicates that alcohol is the most commonly used drug; however, increasing levels of marijuana, cocaine and tranquilizer use have also been reported. Often this results not only in addiction, but also crime or trafficking to support the habit.
Sexual and reproductive health
Teen pregnancy continues to be a troubling issue especially as many teen mothers often do not return to the formal school system, or are denied their right to an education by school officials who feel that they may be a bad influence on the other girls. Such girls are usually not allowed back into the schools even after they have already given birth. Adolescents are also becoming susceptible to contracting HIV/AIDS. This is especially so for girls and may be due in part to their early initiation into sexual activity with research showing that sexual activity can begin from as early as 10 years. In addition, countries are reporting troubling levels of schoolgirls engaging in transactional and unprotected sex with older men for basics such as food or transportation as well as 'brand-name' clothing and other material goods and this has also increased the vulnerability of girls to contracting HIV/AIDS and other STIs. Adolescents who have been abused have been shown to be even more vulnerable to contracting STI’s than their peers who are engaging in consensual sex.
The region has been experiencing escalating levels of interpersonal conflict in schools and in the wider community and many adolescents report having experienced violence in one form or another. For example, from a young age, boys are at risk of stab and gunshot wounds, accidental lacerations, and head injuries/fractures, while girls are more at risk of sexual assault. Reports of incidences of teens who threaten or attack their school teachers are now increasingly being reported by the media.
© UNICEF BECO/2007/ Asael
Children from a primary school in Antigua
Within and outside the school system, adolescents have limited opportunities to develop their leadership skills and to realize their right to participation. National Youth Councils, the umbrella body for youth organizations in countries, generally consist of older youth (21 to 35 years old) and need to make organizational adjustments if they are to build their institutional capacities to be able to represent adolescents and cater to their needs. Adolescent participation tends to be token and welcomed only at symbolic, ceremonial and decorative levels.