Transition marks the ages of 12 to 17. Children experience puberty, learn to think and act independently, and become adults. They make decisions about their lives that have long lasting effects into adulthood. Adolescents also increasingly live in a ‘world of contradictions’. While they may look and sometimes act like adults, they are on the doorstep of an adult world they do not fully understand.
Nor do they possess all the skills to effectively operate within the adult world. Adolescents, no matter how much they deny it, require assistance, protection and support to become empowered. A stable home life during this time is essential.
Three main support areas are described - school, health care support, and social protection. Success or failure at school determines the economic and social opportunities a child will have as an adult. Studies from 51 countries show that each year of schooling increases wages by 9.7% (MoHSS, 2010).
Adolescents take the basics learned in primary school and move into more advanced levels of knowledge and skills. Yet only around a third of children entering school will qualify for higher education and a much greater choice in the jobs available to them.
Added years of education have also been shown to enhance the ability of both girls and boys to negotiate safer sex practices such as delaying the start of sexual activity and using condoms when sexually active (MoHSS, 2010). Girls do better at school but one in six will become pregnant and leave school. In Kavango and Kunene this is likely to be one of the reasons why fewer girls than boys attend school. The physical changes children undergo in their teens mean new needs regarding health care. Reproductive health issues including protecting oneself against HIV arise. All these points highlight the need for high quality life skills training, health care, and other services that are specifically designed for the adolescent in both school and community settings.
These needs are well recognised at the policy level. However, health care programmes in schools are not widely available and a shortage of staff at clinics limits implementation of school health programmes in some regions. Life skills programmes are not yet nationally available and school counseling programmes require additional resources and training for the counsellors. Adolescents who are HIV positive feel isolated at school and if caregivers are not supportive or communicative, children face stigma and isolation at home too.
The need for continuing protection for adolescents at home, school and in the community is clear. Disturbingly high numbers of girls report their first sexual experience as being forced.