Improving health of adolescents

Promoting gender-responsive adolescent health


The challenge

Adolescence is the period following the onset of puberty during which a young person develops from a child into an adult.

It is a transitional period that requires special attention.

Evidence suggests that policies and services sensitive to the needs and capabilities of adolescents can help them break the cycle of poverty, discrimination and violence.

Bangladesh is home to 36 million adolescents, making up 22 per cent of the population. But adolescent-friendly services is not yet a familiar concept.

There is growing need for urgent action.

Because of the high rate of child marriage, adolescent girls in Bangladesh face risks from early pregnancies, violence and lack in nutrition. Of the women aged between 20 and 24, as many as 53 per cent were married before the age of 18.

There is high fertility rate among adolescents. But Bangladeshi adolescents often lack access to health facilities.

Adolescents and their families also have very limited awareness of health needs. This includes information on reproductive health, nutrition and psycho-social counselling.

These conditions contribute to high mortality rates of newborns in Bangladesh, besides neonatal and maternal morbidities.

(Left) Shazeda, a young mother of two babies attends in the parent-teacher meeting in a pre-primary school supported by UNICEF at Korial slum in Dhaka. Bangladesh has on the highest rates of adolescent birth globally.

In Bangladesh, two common factors behind the poor nutritional status of adolescent girls are poor diets and early childbearing.

Global data shows that almost twice as many new-born deaths occur among pregnant women below 20, compared to those who are older. In Bangladesh, the number of dead newborns whose mothers were below age 20 is 31 per 1,000 live births.

In Bangladesh, two common factors behind of the poor nutritional status of adolescent girls are poor diets and early childbearing.

Nearly 1 in 3 adolescent girls are thin, including 11 per cent of girls who are moderately or severely thin. Most lack micronutrients, like iodine, zinc and iron.

The solution

UNICEF works for adolescents by advocating for their right to health; influencing government policies; supporting better service delivery; and empowering communities.

It works to improve access to adolescent-friendly health services and counselling in public health facilities in targeted districts to inform the national model for AFHS. The strategy focuses on sexual and reproductive health, violence against adolescents, adolescent nutrition and maternal health of adolescents.

Adolescent-friendly health care is a part of an overall gender-responsive UNICEF package, which also includes components of nutrition, HIV, sanitation, menstrual hygiene management and education based on life skills and media participation, with an inclusive approach to ensure adequate services for adolescents with disabilities.

UNICEF provides support to make available standard operating procedures and guidelines for quality and utilisation of the adolescent-friendly package.

UNICEF sharpened its geographical focus and interventions to ensure support on two levels.

Firstly, it supports the government on specific issues that require policy reform, strategy and planning and development of programmes.

Secondly, it rolls out actions for sub-national level for promoting adolescent friendly health services, focusing on specific districts that have a high prevalence of child marriage.


The adolescent girls are demonstrating how they produce sanitary napkins under the project "Shompurna" supported by UNICEF in Dacope Upazila, Khulna.
(Right) Rebeka Akhter, a social worker from Ashkarpur Community Clinic provides counselling for 16 years old (left) Reksona who is 5 months pregnant at Ashkarpur, Satkhira.

UNICEF works to strengthen the capacities of health care service providers, who provide quality services tailored to adolescents.

Experts within the organization are engaged continuously to make sure adolescent girls and boys are involved as equal partners in examining some of the challenges they face with respect to health service delivery.



The Adolescent Brain: A Second Window of Opportunity' Symposium

National Strategy for Adolescent Health 2017-2030; Directorate General of Family Planning, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare