Adolescent development, protection and participation

When youth are supported and encouraged, they have the potential to break long-standing cycles of poverty, discrimination and violence.

Young people make their own radio programmes in Mozambique


Eastern and Southern Africa bears a high burden of HIV, violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting.

Of all the adolescents living with HIV globally, more than half are in Eastern and Southern Africa.

The region has made progress in reducing the prevalence of child marriage, but the levels remain high and violence against girls and boys is still far too common.

Violence against children, female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage violate the rights of children and adolescents. For girls, child marriage and sexual violence often disrupt their education, limit their developmental opportunities, and expose them to the risk of HIV infection, pregnancy, and complications from childbirth.

More than 1 million adolescents live with HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa – 61 per cent of the global total. Adolescent girls and young women remain disproportionately affected: 3 in 4 new infections for those aged 15–19 years are among girls. Nearly two thirds of global AIDS-related deaths among adolescents occur in this region. The need to increase utilization of HIV testing, treatment and care among adolescents, particularly girls, remains urgent.

Teenage girls
UNICEF Malawi/2017/Andrew Brown
Girls at risk; poverty, early pregnancies and child marriage force girls out of school.

Studies carried out in Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe suggest that between 30 and 40 per cent of girls under 18 years of age have experienced sexual abuse and violence. Reporting of incidents of violence remains low – less than 50 per cent of girls and even fewer boys report violations and less than half of those who do receive any form of assistance. To limit the negative long-term impacts of violence, there is an urgent need to increase the demand for, and access to, social welfare, health, education, and justice services.

Approximately 4.9 million adolescent girls in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region are married: 34 per cent before the age of 18, and 9 per cent before the age of 15. The prevalence of child marriage is above 20 per cent in 13 countries and above 40 per cent in 9 countries.

Female genital mutilation/cutting is also a significant issue in parts of the region such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Some countries have made great progress in reducing female genital mutilation/cutting. However, region-wide, progress in reduction has been slower than population growth, reinforcing the importance of changing social norms to protect girls from this harmful practice.



Increasing utilization of HIV prevention, treatment and care services for adolescents

Across the region, UNICEF supports HIV testing and counselling and post-test referral and support services for adolescents at risk of HIV. Increased availability and utilization of quality, tailored HIV treatment and adherence support services are essential for adolescents at risk of and living with HIV. UNICEF uses new technology, innovation and adolescent-friendly communication channels to reach adolescents with key messages on health, education, protection, and HIV.

UNICEF child protection icon

Reduction in violence against children

Children and adolescents in need of child protection services must get the correct support. This is why UNICEF invests in the social welfare workforce, including training, sensitizing, and hiring and retaining more and better qualified social workers to effectively prevent, identify and respond to violence against children.

Involvement of the community is key to reducing violence against children. UNICEF uses Communication for Development interventions to promote adoption of effective and positive preventive and protective strategies to nurture and refer children who are vulnerable or have experienced abuse to the child protection system.

UNICEF girl icon

Eliminating child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting

UNICEF promotes the adoption of positive social norms and practices that help prevent female genital mutilation/cutting, through advocacy with policy-makers; community dialogue; adolescent engagement; and mobilization of religious and traditional leaders; complemented with messages through mass media.