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News note

Investing in adolescents can break the cycle of poverty and inequity

AMMAN, 6 March 2011 – Under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children, UNICEF’s Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa launched today the organization’s flagship publication The State of the World’s Children, focusing this year on the theme of “Adolescence: An age of opportunity”.

“There are 84 million adolescents in the Middle East and North Africa, representing one fifth of the population,” said Shahida Azfar, UNICEF interim Regional Director. “Meeting their needs is key to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty and inequity, and to reaping the demographic dividends if timely and sufficient investments are made in the positive development of young people.”

The MENA region has made significant progress in improving the rights of children and adolescents.Under-five mortality rates decreased by 47 per cent between 1990 and 2009. Some 83 per cent of children of primary school-age are enrolled in school.

As children enter their second decade of life, it is crucial to ensure that opportunities are not lost and that the achievements are sustained and built upon. 

Globally, nearly half of the world’s adolescents of secondary school age are not enrolled in schools. In the Middle East and North Africa, nearly 1 in 10 children aged between 5 and 14 is involved in child labour. And some 90 per cent of children aged 2-14 experience violent disciplinary methods.

The region also has the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world. In 2009, 1 out of 4 youth in the region was out of work.

The report examines the global state of adolescents and the particular challenges they face in health and survival, education, protection and participation. It also investigates the risks for young people in a world marked by uncertainty about economics and employment, climate change and demographic shifts, peace and security, emerging health threats and the growing disparities in access to essential services and protection.

The report highlights the need for adolescents to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to deal with the multiple challenges facing them by investing in quality education and learning opportunities, especially for the adolescent girl. It also outlines the opportunities for advancing the rights of adolescents afforded by new technologies and approaches to problem-solving, increased emphasis on gender equality, and greater attention to empowering adolescents to participate in decisions that affect them at all levels.
To this end, the report argues that targeted investments in the following key areas are essential:

  • Improving data collection to increase the understanding of adolescents’ situation to meet their rights;
  • Investing in education and training so that adolescents have the means to lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to their national economies;
  • Expanding opportunities for adolescents to participate and voice their opinion, for example in national youth councils, youth forums, community service initiatives, online activism and other avenues which enable adolescents to make their voices heard.
  • Promoting laws, policies and programmes that protect the rights of  adolescents and enable them to overcome barriers  to essential services;
  • Stepping up the fight again poverty and inequity through child sensitive programs to prevent adolescents from being prematurely catapulted into adulthood.

“We cannot make this decade one of missed chances for the adolescents of today in the Middle East and Northern African region – the youth today are claiming their space in society, asking to be heard and supported.  Working together with this generation, we can lay the foundation for peaceful, tolerant and equitable societies, in which each successive generation of children can thrive,” concluded Ms. Azfar.

For further information, please contact:
Charbel Raji, UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa,
Tel + 962-79-731-5788,

Samir Badran, UNICEF Jordan,
Tel + 962-79-692-6180,




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