Adolescence and Youth

Adolescent and youth development and participation

Youth reporters are interviewing Ban Gi Moon, Executive Director, United Nation
UNICEF LAO PDR

Challenges

Adolescence is a phase separate from both early childhood and adulthood. It is a transitional period that requires special attention and protection. Physically, children go through a number of transitions while they mature. We now know that the brain undergoes quite substantial developments in early adolescence which affect emotional skills as well as physical and mental abilities.

In Lao PDR, out of a total population of 6.5 million, some 59 per cent are children and young people below the age of 25. They must know their rights and be encouraged to pursue their dreams.

However, they often face a number of issues, ranging from violence and early death from accidents, to suicides, alcohol and substance use, among many more. Adolescent girls are often particularly at risk.

Lao PDR has one of the highest adolescent birth rates in the region, 83 births per 1,000 girls (aged 15-19), with distinct differences between rural and urban areas (136 and 42 births per 1,000 adolescent girls, respectively).

In terms of access to water, sanitation and hygiene, as in many other countries, adolescent girls in Laos, particularly in rural areas, have insufficient access to safe and private facilities for Menstrual Hygiene Management, which makes it difficult for them to manage their menstruation safely, comfortably and with dignity. In addition, in 79% of households without water on the premises, females collect the water. Women and girls of ethnic groups living in mountainous areas bear greater burden.

With regard to education, despite the high net enrolment rate in primary education (98.7%), the survival rate in primary stays low (79.6%). Literacy rates are slightly higher for those in the 15-19 year age group than those in the 20-24 year age group, and the literacy rates of young women aged 15-24 are lower than their male counterparts, 69% and 77%, respectively. Girls from some ethnic communities and lower wealth quintiles are at an educational disadvantage.

The country has the highest percentage of child marriage in East Asia and the Pacific, with 37 per cent of women aged 20 to 49 married by the age of 18. Most of the victims of trafficking, violence and sexual exploitation are girls and adolescents.

Solutions

To deal with these complex issues and to help adolescents and youth transition to adulthood as educated, socially-adjusted global citizens, UNICEF promotes cross-sectoral approaches. Adolescents who are better informed and involved in decision-making processes that affect their lives can better protect themselves, grow and realise their full potential.

UNICEF strongly encourages adolescent and youth participation, as a right, in planning, analysis and programs. With an emphasis on equity, UNICEF EAPRO encourages specific attention to adolescents from the most disadvantaged groups, such as those who are stateless, migrants and those with disabilities.

In Lao PDR, UNICEF works with the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and the Lao National Radio to build adolescents and youth skills and give them platforms to express their ideas and talk about the issues affecting them.

In collaboration with UNFPA, UNICEF is supporting the Government to develop a multi-sectoral response action plan for the delivery of an essential service package for adolescent girls. It is designed to address adolescent pregnancy and child marriage, based on the situation analysis in Lao PDR.

UNICEF helps the Ministry of Health increase coverage of iron folic acid supplementation for pregnant and lactating women, which includes adolescents. We also support health outreach services to increase access to family planning and antenatal care for adolescents and young women.

UNICEF is also engaging youth, including girls, in raising awareness on safe water, eliminating open defecation, promoting hygiene - specifically hand-washing with clean water and soap; and building resilience to climate change through Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) interventions. Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is one of the elements of the WASH in Schools component within the WASH and Climate Change Resilience Programme.  

With the Ministry of Education and Sports, UNICEF works to reduce repetition and dropout in primary education to help all children and adolescents in Lao PDR complete a full cycle of basic education and gain essential knowledge and skills.

In the area of Child Protection, UNICEF supports awareness-raising activities about child protection and prevention of violence, early marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.