A vulnerable phase
Adolescence – An Age of Opportunity
Adolescence is a challenging and vulnerable phase of life – a time when girls and boys make the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Children must not only adapt to physical, emotional, sexual and social changes during these years that redefine their roles in their families and communities, many are also exposed to a number of external challenges arising from their natural propensity to take risks and test boundaries. As they seek to establish an autonomous identity, they may experiment with tobacco, alcohol and other substances or engage in risky behaviours that can lead to injuries or long-term health problems.
Violence and exploitation
Violations of children’s rights to protection as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child are also at their height during adolescence, exposing children to violence, abuse and exploitation.
Most-at-risk adolescents include those living and/or working on the streets, adolescents in institutions and detention, adolescents from indigenous and other marginalised communities, adolescents living with disabilities as well stateless and refugee adolescents.
Adolescents in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of sexual exploitation, violence, child labour, child marriage and teenage pregnancy. The risks associated with early sex, child marriage and adolescent childbirth, sexual violence and domestic labour render teenage girls particularly vulnerable. For example, studies show that the majority of the victims of sexual abuse, including rape and incest, are girls. Adolescents may be lured into commercial sexual exploitation under the pretense of being offered education or employment, or in exchange for cash. Or they may become involved due to family pressure, or the need to support their families, themselves, or both.
In addition to suffering violence at the hands of adults, adolescents are also much more likely to encounter violence from their peers than at any other stage in life. Acts of physical violence, including bullying, reach a peak during the second decade of life, with some adolescents using it to gain the respect of their peers or to assert their own independence.
Adolescents also face numerous global challenges both today and in the future, among them the current economic turmoil, climate change and environmental degradation, explosive urbanisation and migration, aging societies, the rising costs of healthcare, and escalating humanitarian crises.