Adolescents in Europe and Central Asia are one of the region’s greatest assets. Yet few have the chance to participate in decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their communities, and their potential contribution to society is often overlooked.
Many adolescents have limited access to essential services in health, education, social protection, child protection and justice, with their exclusion often rooted in poverty and lack of opportunities, as well as inadequate policies, laws and budgets to respond to their rights and needs.
Social norms also work against their participation and perpetuate ‘traditional’ gender roles. Child marriages, for example, are found in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and among Roma and refugee communities. Marginalized adolescents now account for most of the children living in residential care across the region.
Adolescents face particular risks: road injuries, for example, are the leading cause of death among those aged 15-19, followed by self-harm, interpersonal violence and drowning. Risky behaviour, including unprotected sex and the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, often starts early and is on the rise in some countries.
Mental health issues such as depression are becoming more prominent.
While sexual and reproductive health remains a concern in many countries, mental health issues such as depression are becoming more prominent. Depression is now the leading cause of the burden of disease in some countries, including Kazakhstan, where suicide rates are among the highest in the world for boys aged 15-19.
While access to lower secondary education is high across the region, at 96 per cent, access and completion rates for adolescents with disabilities or from Roma communities are low. Data from 2015 reveal that 30-50 per cent of 15-year-olds fail to master basic skills in reading, mathematics and science.
2.4 million adolescents are thought to be out of school.
Many never make it to upper secondary education, where 2.4 million adolescents are thought to be out of school. Those that do make it report that curricula are rarely adapted to today’s labour market. As a result many adolescents are not in education, employment or training.
Adolescents are often at higher risk of poverty than younger children and may not qualify for social protection benefits. For some, poverty leads to child labour, and those living or working on the streets may be exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation. Those who are refugees or migrants are particularly at risk of such rights violations.
Only a fraction of adolescents whose rights have been violated seek redress or have access to justice. Of these, few, if any, get the justice they deserve.