Adolescents in humanitarian action

During conflicts, disasters and protracted crises, the rights and needs of adolescents can be overlooked to devastating effect. So can their contributions.

An adolescent boy carries bricks to help his family, who are Rohingya refugees, relocate to safer ground during monsoon season in Unchiprang camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

During conflicts, natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies, adolescents shoulder immense burdens.

They can be found on the frontlines of response efforts, protecting their communities and environments. Many are forced to drop out of school to help care and provide for their families. Others are cut off from education – and basic needs like health, nutrition, protection, water and sanitation – due to conflict and natural disasters.

Today, more countries are embroiled in fighting than at any time in the past 30 years, leaving adolescents extremely vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation. Girls in humanitarian settings may face pressure to marry from families desperate to secure their safety and survival. They are also at increased risk of sexual violence, while boys suffer the dangers of forced recruitment by armed groups.

For displaced adolescents, threats surge. Separated from their homes and sometimes their families, adolescents on the move become vulnerable to trafficking and detention. Those already disadvantaged by poverty or discrimination – perhaps due to disability or ethnicity – are most at risk.

“We arrive in an unknown land, with unknown people and an unknown language. We should not be judged or seen as a threat. Our only differences are the circumstances in which we grow.”

Erick Ramirez, 19, Honduras

Through it all, the needs of adolescents affected by crisis are often overlooked. Worse, they are sometimes seen as threats or burdens to their host communities, rather than positive agents of change.

How adolescents fare in emergencies has a staggering effect on their psychological and social development. And because today’s generation is larger than ever, their resilience has consequences for the future of entire countries.

Wa’ed, 16, writing
Wa’ed, 16, attends a UNICEF-supported school in Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. “I should be in tenth grade by now, but the last grade I passed was the fifth,” she explains. “When I entered the sixth grade in Syria, we fled our home.” UNICEF supports Catch Up classes for out-of-school children in the camps and host community.

Investing in adolescents in humanitarian action

In all stages of humanitarian action, adolescents have much to contribute. Their knowledge on social dynamics and man-made disasters – like flooding, erosion, pollution, disease outbreak and more – helps countries prepare for, respond to, and recover from crises. And their firsthand experience of emergencies can bring nation-wide solutions for resilience, stability and peacebuilding.

When crises strike, UNICEF delivers services to meet adolescents’ immediate needs in the following areas:


To ensure adolescents affected by crisis do not miss out on education, UNICEF supports continued formal and non-formal learning opportunities, as well as skills development programmes and alternative learning through art and expression. We also invest in psychosocial services that help adolescents cope with trauma and contribute to peace- and resilience-building.

Health, well-being and nutrition

UNICEF helps keep adolescents connected to essential health care, including medical screening, nutrition services, social inclusion and sexual and reproductive health rights programmes, as well as activities that support mental health like sports and psychological first aid. We also support adolescents with safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and with menstrual health and hygiene management.


UNICEF helps build the capacity of frontline responders and health workers so that they can identify and mitigate risks to adolescents. We help adolescents access appropriate protection-related services, especially those that address gender-based violence, such as safe spaces. For adolescents who are on the move and alone, we support care arrangements and other alternatives to detention.

Civic engagement and participation

UNICEF equips adolescents with the information, skills and support they need to become active partners in humanitarian action. This means soliciting and incorporating their views on preparedness, response, recovery and peacebuilding efforts, and ensuring their meaningful participation across the humanitarian programme cycle.


UNICEF works with partners to engage adolescents in peacebuilding, including efforts to address the underlying causes of conflict, to strengthen social cohesion – especially between host and refugee communities – to reintegrate migrants, and to support conflict resolution.


Programme Guidance for the Second Decade: Programming with and for Adolescents

Learn more about the guiding principles and priorities of UNICEF’s work on adolescent development and participation.

Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action

Explore UNICEF’s central policy to uphold the rights of children affected by humanitarian emergencies.

Beyond Borders

This report makes the case for putting the protection and well-being of children and adolescents on the move at the heart of global compacts for refugees and migration.

Engaging Adolescents in Conflict Analysis: A Guidance Note

This guidance note supports UNICEF country offices in fostering adolescents’ safe and meaningful participation in conflict analysis and other peacebuilding interventions.

Programme Guidance for Conflict Sensitivity and Peacebuilding (Full version) (Summary)

This programming guide provides a tool for UNICEF field staff to understand, situate and operationalize conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding within UNICEF’s work in different contexts and in partnership with various stakeholders.

Adolescents as Peacebuilders Toolkit

This toolkit helps practitioners approach peacebuilding in a more systematic way while addressing the distinct challenges faced by adolescents in conflict situations.

United Nations Youth Strategy

This strategy aims to expand global, regional and country-level action to address the needs, build the agency and advance the rights of young people around the world, and to ensure their participation in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action

Read this commitment by key humanitarian actors to ensure that the priorities, needs and rights of young people affected by emergencies are addressed, with their own meaningful engagement.

Igniting Hope for and with Young People

This report documents innovative humanitarian programming to advance young people’s rights, as well as ways in which young people are engaging and serving emergency-affected populations.

Global Compact on Refugees

The Global Compact on Refugees is a critical opportunity to ensure that refugee youth, as a group with distinct rights, needs, and capacities, are adequately protected and empowered.

Youth4Peace Global Knowledge Portal

Explore research, news, discussions and other resources from this global partnership to support the positive contributions of youth to peace processes and conflict resolution.

The Missing Peace: Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security

This study surveys the positive contributions of youth to peace processes and conflict resolution.