Adolescents and Social Norms

Adolescence is often paradoxical – a time both of risk and vulnerability, and of peak growth and potential. In Niger, children’s second decade of life is a challenging period.

UNICEF
UNICEF Niger/Pirozzi

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. Adolescence is also when gender norms are either solidified, rejected or transformed.

Social and gender norms present significant challenges for children in Niger. Adolescents and youth, particularly girls, face major constraints to fulfilling their potential: 76 per cent of girls are married before 18; 36 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have already given birth or are pregnant and only 26.9 per cent are literate, versus 50.2 per cent of boys.

Adolescents, particularly teenage mothers and children with special needs, do not receive services adapted to their needs. Niger has enacted major laws, policies and strategies to combat gender-based violence and promote gender equality, but competing customary, religious and national laws result in ambiguities for rights holders and duty bearers.

Solutions

UNICEF supports the Government to promote positive changes in behaviour and social norms protecting youth, particularly girls, in their communities and families, and promoting their voices and agency in key planning and decision-making arenas.

UNICEF invests in the opportunity for adolescent girls and boys to acquire critical assets as they grow; the abilities, skills, values and experiences to negotiate multiple life domains, to avoid risky behaviors and become economically independent. 

UNICEF works to connect young people to decision makers and influencers, so that their participation in society translates into positive change in policies, practices and attitudes. It will support participation spaces and processes that are inclusive and accessible, particularly for young mothers.

Through partnerships with CBOs, traditional and religious leaders, national and local influencers and the media, UNICEF promotes social norms, beliefs and attitudes which are protective of children’s rights, empowering for youth and enhances youth participation and inter-generational dialogue.

Evidence shows that when adolescent girls and boys are supported and encouraged by caring adults, along with policies and services attentive to their needs and capabilities, they have the potential to break long-standing cycles of poverty, discrimination and violence.

Resources

Available publications, surveys, reports will be added in this section