Child survival & development in adolescence

Preparing girls and boys to transition from childhood to adulthood


The Challenge

As children grow into adolescents, nutrition remains important. Poor nutrition and anemia continue to be prevalent in Sri Lanka, especially in the poorest areas. Obesity and malnutrition are widespread in adolescent girls and young pregnant mothers. A study by The Demographic Health Services (DHS) found that, amongst ever-married pregnant women, 22.9% were underweight and 20.9% were overweight or obese.

Teen pregnancy — closely correlated to poverty and education — can negatively affect an individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing as well as that of the newborn. Poor awareness of basic sexual and reproductive health and limited access to contraceptive methods create additional problems like HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy. A National Youth and Health Survey found that 45% of girls are unaware that pregnancy can happen after just one instance of sexual intercourse.

Water and sanitation take on a special importance as children, particularly girls, reach puberty, and issues of menstrual hygiene and privacy come to the fore. In fact, poor WASH facilities in schools are currently one of the primary reasons for school absenteeism in young girls. This issue is only made worse by the social stigma attached to menstruation, poor access to female teachers and low awareness of proper menstrual hygiene.

The Solution

UNICEF is working to improve the health and sanitation standards of adolescents by facilitating partnerships with government, non-government, private and community-based stakeholders. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine to build capacities of government offices on adolescent health, nutrition and life skills development.

Schools are an important focal point for the delivery of essential services and for communicating  vital t health and hygiene messages. School clubs, which  promote and conduct health and nutrition activities are being established and developed. Girls in particular are being trained to better understand health issues surrounding pregnancy, disease and menstrual hygiene. Government programs to distribute micronutrients are also being strengthened and streamlined. 

UNICEF is also j driving effort to advocate for  WASH programs and facilities geared towards adolescents in schools, the priority being technical support for WASH and waste management infrastructure. Adolescents themselves will be targeted through capacity-building programs in an effort to ensure that young adults are in the best position to make wise choices about their health, in line with Global Dietary Guidelines. The innovative approaches and best practices coming out of these various programmes and activities will eventually be scaled up nationwide.

Broadly speaking, UNICEF is working to empower girls and boys to take control of their health and to participate in forums that will give them a platform to voice their concerns and affect positive change.


Everything we do at UNICEF, from planning to execution, is grounded in empirical data, independent evaluation, rigorous research and thoughtful analysis. This information is gathered with the help of our own staff and the help of our network of partners in communities around the country. 

UNICEF supports research and uses it to inform every decision we make. We rely on hard evidence to assess any situation on the ground, and we use these findings drive programs, policies and initiatives.

If you would like to learn more about child survival and development in adolescence, please have a look at the resources below.


Watch our Parenting Masterclasses. ‘Eat, Play, Love’: Sri Lanka’s children need more to ensure they enter adulthood without a disadvantage