© UNICEF Serbia/Zoran Jovanovic Maccak

Adolescents can make an immense contribution to Serbia’s national development if given the support and space they need to participate in the decisions that affect them. As Serbia’s burgeoning productive force, it is important for the country – as well as for individual adolescents – that the transition from childhood to adulthood goes well, particularly for adolescents who are marginalized and isolated.

UNICEF aims to tackle the problems that pull adolescents away from society. These include education that excludes them, the lack of specialized health services tailored to their needs, weaknesses in juvenile justice and the failure to ‘catch’ those who slip through the social services net. Adolescents also lack the means to make their voices heard on the decisions that affect them.

The challenges

Many of today’s adolescents were born during Serbia’s years of conflict and isolation, and continue to pay the price today. Those from the poorest families, Roma communities and from fractured families are at greatest risk of social exclusion and loss of opportunity.

  • A growing number of adolescents are taking risks through alcohol consumption, drug use and unsafe sex, increasing their chances of HIV infection.
  • An estimated 16 per cent of adolescents aged 15-18 are out of school, rising to around 90 per cent of adolescents from Roma settlements. For girls, in particular, this increases the risk of early marriage.
  • Adolescents lack tailored health and education services, and have only limited opportunities to play an active role in the development of their communities and society.
  • The number and severity of reported crimes committed by juveniles rose between 2005 and 2008, particularly crimes involving theft and violence.
  • While the law mandates the use of ‘diversionary’ solutions – such as obligatory school attendance – for young offenders, these are rarely used in practice.

The Government adopted a National Youth Strategy in 2008 and an Action Plan in 2009, and has established Youth Offices in more than 100 municipalities. But there is some way to go before the most marginalized adolescents achieve their full rights.

What we do

UNICEF advocates for comprehensive public and private services tailored to the needs of especially vulnerable adolescents, spanning our work on health, inclusive education, child care reform, violence and justice for the most marginalized children.

Our work with schools, for example, includes a checklist of measures to spot adolescents who are at risk of dropping out, and the Schools without Violence initiative helps to catch potential problems at an early stage, before it is too late.

We help municipal Youth Offices coordinate and support programmes to inform, educate and mobilize adolescents, particularly those at risk. This includes providing information and voluntary services with and for adolescents, support for youth clubs, and support for programmes that improve their health, their safety and their job prospects.

Our work on juvenile justice includes the development of guidelines and advocacy for resources to support the use of diversionary solutions for young offenders.

And we partner with the front-line NGOs working to address the risks of HIV infection among adolescents living and working on the streets, particularly young injecting drug users and sex workers. Our aim is to connect their services, such as HIV education, condom distribution and needle exchange to local safety schemes for adolescents, linking them to state health, education and social services.

© UNICEF Serbia

Building the evidence

  • UNICEF provides data on a range of adolescent issues through the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys.
  • Our past research on most at-risk adolescents (MARA) led to the inclusion of MARA in the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy (2011-2015).

Strengthening systems

  • UNICEF strengthens the local infrastructure for adolescents through its support for Youth Offices and community services that focus on the adolescents who are most excluded and at greatest risk.
  • Similarly, we are strengthening the ability of the education system to recognize adolescents who are at risk and mount an effective response.
  • UNICEF has developed policy options for improved adolescent-friendly health services, including stronger prevention and early identification of health risks among adolescents.
  • Our research on MARA has guided new NGOs outreach programmes for adolescents living on the streets and HIV prevention programmes for young injecting drug users (IDUs). Lessons learned are now being used to develop service standards.

Creating social accountability

  • UNICEF supports adolescents to carry out research, share the findings and contribute their views to programme design and implementation.
  • At community level, we support the active engagement of vulnerable adolescents in youth programmes, voluntary services, peer education and with the work of Youth Offices and Local Plans of Action, so that they have a voice in the decisions that concern them.

Working in partnership

  • In addition to our partners in such sectors as education, health and social welfare at national and municipal level, we liaise with front-line NGOs who work with adolescents living on the streets.
  • We also link with NGOs that promote and support youth work, volunteerism, non-violence and peer education.
  • We have also partnered with institutions and organizations that are implementing projects funded by the Global Fund for Tuberculosis, AIDS and Malaria (GFTAM), aiming to ensure that adolescents have a high priority in these projects.






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