Why the adolescent years matter
Adolescents, with their zest for life and their growing awareness of the world around them, can make an immense contribution to society if given the support and space they need to participate. 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.
It is perfectly natural for adolescents to test the waters of adult life and explore new horizons. What matters is how far they go, and how many risks they take along the way. For some adolescents, the risks are greater and the consequences more severe.
Peer pressure, curiosity, and thrill seeking can lead even the most privileged adolescent to experiment with drugs, alcohol and sexuality. For others, poverty and isolation combine to push them towards drug abuse, alcohol abuse or sex work as a way to cope with, or escape from, their daily lives. The risks include violence, HIV infection, lost education and lost opportunity. The risks to their communities include the loss of a productive generation.
The situation in Serbia
Most adolescents in Serbia are in school. Most are healthy. And most make it through adolescence with no more than the usual teenage angst. But for those from the poorest families, from families in crisis, and from Roma communities, adolescence can be a time of growing risk and social exclusion.
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.
• An estimated 11 per cent of adolescents aged 15-18 are out of school, rising as high as 81 per cent of adolescents from Roma settlements.
While the overall HIV prevalence rate in Serbia is low, there is an intense concentration of infections among high risk groups, particularly injecting drug users and sex workers. And the younger they are, the greater the dangers. Up to 30 per cent of young drug users in Serbia are aged 15 years or younger when they first inject.While they are the most vulnerable, adolescents are the least likely to know the risks or how to avoid them, and least likely to have access to the services that they need.
What is needed
There is an urgent need for a stronger focus on the most excluded adolescents. Blanket approaches that treat all adolescents as equally vulnerable may overlook the severe problems facing those who are already marginalized.