UNICEF to Gov’ts: Invest in adolescents

Published by rudy Date posted on March 17, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – Investing in the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10 to 19 now can break entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity, and reduce the risk of HIV in the Philippines.

Thus said the UNICEF during the launch of its 2011 State of the World’s Children report entitled “Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity.”

Strong investments during the last two decades have resulted in enormous gains for young children up to the age of 10.

The 33 percent drop in the global under-five mortality rate (nearly 50 percent in the Philippines) shows that many more young lives have been saved and millions of children now benefit from improved access to safe water and critical medicine such as routine vaccinations.

On the other hand, there have been fewer gains in areas critically affecting adolescents. More than 70 million adolescents of lower secondary age are currently out of school.

In the Philippines, only about 60 percent of children of secondary school age ever attend. Without education, adolescents cannot develop the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the risks of exploitation, abuse and violence that are at height during the second decade of life.

‘Adolescence a pivot point’

“Adolescence is a pivot point — an opportunity to consolidate the gains we have made in early childhood or risk seeing those gains wiped out,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director.

“We need to focus more attention now on reaching adolescents — especially adolescent girls — investing in education, health and other measures to engage them in the process of improving their own lives,” Lake added.

Adolescence is a critically important age. It is during this second decade of life that inequities and poverty manifest starkly. Young people who are poor or marginalized are less likely to make the transition to secondary education during adolescence, and they are more likely to experience exploitation, abuse and violence such as domestic labor and child marriage — especially if they are girls.

The vast majority of today’s adolescents (88 percent) live in developing countries. In the Philippines, adolescents comprise almost 20 million of the population or roughly 22 percent (2007 census).

The UNICEF report catalogues, in heart-wrenching detail, the array of dangers adolescents face: early pregnancy and childbirth, a primary cause of death for teenage girls; the pressures that keep 70 million adolescents out of school; exploitation, violent conflict and the worst kind of abuse at the hands of adults.

In the Philippines, about 1.4 million young women and men between 15 and 24 years old were unemployed, accounting for 51 percent of the total unemployed (2008).

An increasingly technological labor market requires skills that many young people do not possess. This not only results in a waste of young people’s talents, but also in a lost opportunity for the communities in which they live.

In many countries, large teenage populations are a unique demographic asset that is often overlooked. By investing in adolescent education and training, countries can reap a large and productive workforce, contributing significantly to the growth of national economies.

Adolescents and HIV risk in Phl

In the Philippines, one third of new HIV infections are occurring among young people aged 15 to 24, increasing 10-fold from 2007 to 2010.

Vanessa Tobin, UNICEF country representative said, “There is no doubt that HIV+AIDS in the Philippines has an adolescent face. We know from research and findings around the world that the youth need sound and accurate information on sexual and reproductive health to protect them from teen pregnancy, early marriage, gender-based violence, risky social and sexual behaviors, and STIs and HIV.”

“We cannot be complacent any longer about the rate of new HIV infections. Infections in the Philippines are increasing at an alarming rate,” she said.

Tobin added: “The Philippines has led the Southeast Asian region in recognizing and promoting adolescent rights and giving young people a voice. It is now important to listen to those voices and respond to adolescents to receive clear, accurate information on protecting themselves from STIs and HIV.”

To enable adolescents worldwide to effectively deal with these challenges, targeted investments in the following key areas are necessary:

• Investing in education and training so that adolescents have the means to lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to their national economies;

• Advocating for expanded opportunities for youth to participate and voice their opinion, for example in national youth councils, youth forums, online activism and other avenues which enable adolescents to make their voices heard; and

• Promoting laws, policies and programs that protect the rights of both children and adolescents and enable them to overcome barriers to essential services.

The UNICEF report concludes that young people must be given the tools they need to improve their own lives. Only then will there be a generation of economically independent citizens who are fully engaged in civic life and able to actively contribute to their communities.

“Millions of young people around the world are waiting for a greater action by all of us,” Lake said. –(The Philippine Star)

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