|Tunisia: Adolescents hold hands during a demonstration demanding political reforms, in Tunis.|
1.2 billion adolescents traverse the challenging crossroad between childhood and the adult world. The experiences, knowledge and skills acquired in adolescence have important implications for an individual’s prospects in adulthood. UNICEF segments adolescence can into three stages: early (10-13 years of age), middle (14-16), late (17-19) adolescents
Adolescence are a diverse group; girls, boys, some with disability, some from ethnic groups, some urban and some rural. Yet, nine out of ten of these young people live in the developing world and face especially profound challenges from obtaining an education to simply staying alive – challenges that are magnified for girls and young women.
UNICEF has made great progress in saving young children across the globe, yet we hear too little about adolescence. As a result, the historic progress made in reducing infant and child mortality has not extended into the second decade of life while this period is a pivotal decade when poverty and inequity often pass to the next generation as poor adolescent girls give birth to impoverished children. Investing in adolescent development is imperative to fully realize the rights of all children.
Adolescence is an age of opportunity. Young people are resourceful, courageous, and well aware that their future depends not only on what we can do for themselves and to the society they live in. Climate change is an excellent example. Adolescents in developing countries most at risk from the intensifying effects of climate change are proving to be the most effective advocates for addressing the issue, as evidenced by youth participation in the Rio+20 Conference.
UNICEF's Mandate on Adolescence
UNICEF’s mandate to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) necessitates that all children under 18 are included in its programming. UNICEF’s organizational priorities identify adolescent development as a cross-cutting issue, impacting critical areas of UNICEF’s work. Adolescents play a central role in contributing to young child survival programmes, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, helping to create a protective environment against violence, exploitation and abuse, and macro policy development to increase social investment in issues that affect children and adolescents.
While the term ‘adolescents’ is not mentioned in international conventions, declarations or treaties, all adolescents have rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) cover children up to the age of 18, and adolescent girls are further protected under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, and regional instruments such as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
UNICEF has endorsed the CRC as its mandate and therefore adolescent programming is a direct reflection of its service population. Guided by the CRC along with CEDAW and CPRD UNICEF is mandated to invest in adolescents as rights-bearers. The treaties go beyond protecting the welfare of young people; they recognize them as rights holders, extending an ethical basis for their active participation in all aspects of their lives.
It is important to note, in addition to the UN definitions mentioned above, each national government has its own definition and age-threshold for defining children, adolescents.