Adolescent participation and civic engagement

When adolescents contribute to social change, entire communities benefit.

Five teenagers chat on a bench outside in Brazil.
UNICEF/UN0341608/Pinheiro

Adolescents are 1.2 billion strong – and growing. They are directly affected by the decisions world leaders make in education, health and employment, but often excluded from the decision-making.

Adolescents have strong views on the policies and programmes that shape their lives and communities. They have the right to be heard, the right to engage with governments and businesses, and the right to influence matters that affect them.

“As citizens, our voices need to be heard – and our desires too – because an individual problem affects the collective. We are making changes. It can happen through small actions.”

Kauanne Santos Patrocínio, 16, Brazil

When adolescents contribute to social change, they build better futures for themselves – and prosperity for entire communities.

But progress is only possible when they have a platform for dialogue and partnership. Adolescents need safe spaces to form and voice their opinions, and strong advocates who support their efforts to influence policy-making and hold leaders to account.

Three laughing adolescents
UNICEF/UN0218042/Noorani
Adolescents laugh in a meeting at an SDG Activate Talk in Minsk, Belarus. SDG Activate Talks are moderated discussions developed by UNICEF for engaging adolescents and local change-makers in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Promoting participation and civic engagement

Adolescents find many ways to participate in their societies – whether challenging injustice, fostering peace, or exploring innovative solutions to local challenges.

Promoting civic engagement is key to UNICEF’s work. We empower adolescents and enable them to become drivers of change through a variety of actions.

We promote policies and laws that encourage adolescent participation. UNICEF advocates for schools, health facilities and juvenile justice systems to adopt policies that give adolescents a seat at the table.

We strengthen platforms for adolescent participation. UNICEF helps bring adolescents together through student councils, youth clubs, local institutions and community-based organizations, as well as digital platforms. We promote adolescents’ involvement in accountability and decision-making mechanisms, including on issues that pertain to health, education, peacebuilding and climate change.

We help adolescents develop the skills they need to form and voice their opinions. UNICEF helps adolescents understand and exercise their full range of rights. We support programmes that build their confidence and decision-making skills, and work with young influencers to raise awareness of the issues that concern them.

We help communities support adolescents to create solutions and lead change. UNICEF engages community members – including parents, teachers and health workers – to address attitudes, behaviours and social norms that impede adolescent participation, especially for girls and marginalized adolescents. We create the space for adolescents to innovate and implement solutions to issues that concern them within their societies.

We focus on the adolescents most likely to be excluded. Because adolescents from marginalized groups have fewer opportunities to influence their circumstances, UNICEF addresses factors that exclude them from civic engagement, and works to ensure their safety when they do exercise their rights.

Resources

Conceptual Framework for Measuring Outcomes of Adolescent Participation

This framework identifies key aspects of adolescent participation in practice, with a view towards building evidence to support their rights.


Child Participation in Local Governance: A UNICEF Guidance Note

This guide for country-level practitioners outlines key programming steps to support children’s meaningful involvement in local government structures and processes.


Child Friendly Cities Initiative: Strategies for Youth Participation

Explore this compendium of examples, by country, of policies, mechanisms and initiatives that engage children and youth in local governance.


Toolkit for Adolescent and Youth Engagement

This guide for partners in the Middle East and North Africa outlines how to engage adolescents and youth in programming, particularly as it supports their economic, civic and social engagement.


Youth Advocacy Guide

This guide from the UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office seeks to support the efforts of young people to address concerns including unemployment, child safety, the quality of education, and climate emergencies.


EU-UNICEF Child Rights Toolkit: Integrating Child Rights in Development Cooperation

This guide for development professionals explains how to operationalize child rights across sectors, and how to support governments in putting their commitments into practice.