Adolescent Development And Participation (ADAP)

Giving voice to the youth in the region

Youth writing on a board in a conference


One in five people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is an adolescent, offering a window of opportunity to bolster economic and social development of the region. Nevertheless, the MENA region has been unable to develop its human capital to full potential.

Young people, especially young girls, continue to remain socially, economically and politically excluded. The region faces the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, combined with the lowest labour force participation rate. Conflicts, climate change and political instability have further increased the vulnerabilities of young people, exposing them to violence, exploitation and abuse. There is urgency for scaled action for adolescents and youth with respect to health, education, protection as well as social, civic and economic participation.

Key issues affecting the development of young people are:

·      Lack of social and civic engagement opportunities

Opportunities for adolescents and youth to actively participate in community and have a voice remain limited. Young people have expressed low sense of belonging to their communities. Adolescent girls are particularly affected as traditional family and social norms often restrict their agency at the family and community, and limit their access to suitable services, opportunities and safe recreational spaces.

·      Economic hardship

Sustained economic hardship of households, especially refugees and vulnerable communities, is forcing adolescents and youth to take on financial responsibilities. At the same time, youth unemployment in the MENA region is the highest in the world. There is an urgent need to improve transitions from school to work, reduce skills gap, and generate alternative pathways in education and employment that can support young people, including entrepreneurial thinking and opportunities.


·      Limited education

Despite significant progress towards achieving universal primary education[1] and good progress at the secondary level, millions of adolescents continue to drop out of school. Poor quality of education and limited educational opportunities for the most marginalized remain a critical issue, including millions of refugee youth without access to education. Adolescents and youth who are out of school have non-existent opportunities, often falling to idleness and exploitative work. The promise of education as a mean for social mobility is broken at an early stage for these young people.  


·      Increased Risk of Exploitation, Abuse and Violence

Protracted conflicts in the region have deeply affected the physical and psychological well-being of adolescents and youth. Fragmentation of the social fabric - family and community networks – is exposing them to risky situations and negative coping mechanisms. Displaced adolescents and youth have consistently reported feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Adolescent girls and young women are particularly affected, exposing them to domestic violence, early marriage and mobility restrictions. Rising social tensions among refugees and host communities exposes young people to further risks.


[1] Since 1999, the number of children enrolled in primary school has increased by 22 per cent. Source: UNESCO 2015.


UNICEF approaches young people from an assets-based perspective, convinced of their promise and focusing on their strengths. Evidence shows that when adolescent girls and boys are supported and encouraged, along with policies and service responsive to their needs and capabilities, they have the potential to break longstanding cycles of inequality, poverty, discrimination and violence.  

Positive Youth Development

Continued opportunities for meaningful engagement and entrepreneurship improve capacities of young people, and minimize frustration and disempowerment. Empowered youth make positive life choices, safely transit to productive adulthood and contribute to strengthening social cohesion, protection, resilience and economic development. Three factors play a vital role in positive youth development:

•       Structured capacity / asset development at home, in school, and in their community;

•       Opportunities for adolescents to use their skills learned as participants and leaders in valued activities;

•       Positive and sustained mentoring relationships between peers, and between adolescents and adults.


Evidence-Based Programming

 Monitoring and evaluation generates evidence that can shape and transform a project and ensure that it has the maximum impact on young people. Therefore, UNICEF developed an Engagement Monitoring System (EMS). This system is designed to support Country Offices in monitoring adolescent civic engagement and participation, asset development and quality of the programme.


Healthy and Supportive Environment.

Protective factors for adolescents need to be enhanced, enabling them to flourish in healthy and supportive environments within family, community, work, as well as at higher political and decision-making levels.