UNICEF: The State of the World’s Children 2011 report Over 200M adolescents suffer from a mental health or behavioural problem Investing in adolescents can break cycles of poverty and inequity


UNICEF: The State of the World’s Children 2011 report Over 200M adolescents suffer from a mental health or behavioural problem Investing in adolescents can break cycles of poverty and inequity

NEW YORK/ HONG KONG 25 February 2011 – UNICEF releases today The State of the World’s Children 2011 report entitled ‘Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity’, which reveals that around 240 million adolescents suffering from a mental health or behavioural problem, such as depressing, eating disorders and substance abuse. According to the report, over 70 million females aged 15-49 have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting worldwide, while in Brazil alone, 81,000 adolescents aged 15-19 were murdered between 1998 and 2008. UNICEF believes investing in the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 now can break entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity.

Strong investments during the last 2 decades have resulted in enormous gains for young children up to the age of 10. The 33% drop in the global under 5 mortality rate shows that many more young lives have been saved, girls are almost as likely as boys to go to primary school, and millions of children now benefit from improved access to safe water and routine vaccinations.

On the other hand, there have been fewer gains in areas critically affecting adolescents in their second decade of life, a critically important age, when inequities and poverty manifest starkly. Near 90% of the world’s adolescents live in developing countries, many of whom are facing a unique set of challenges and risks. In Brazil, for instance, 26,000 infants’ lives were saved between 1998 and 2008 – but in the same decade 81,000 Brazilian adolescents aged 15-19 were murdered.

Although adolescents across the world are generally healthier today, inequity and reasons as such are still contributing to low school attendance, unemployment, exploitation and abuse of children and young people. Today, 20% of adolescents are suffering from a mental health or behavioural problem, such as depressing, eating disorders and substance abuse, substantially affecting their daily life and development. In 2009, 81 million young people were out of work globally. Youth unemployment remains a concern in almost every country and a loss for the communities.

Poor or marginalised young people are less likely to continue to secondary education and globally girls still lag behind boys. 70 million adolescents are currently out of school. Without education, adolescents cannot develop the knowledge and skills to survive and protect themselves against exploitation, abuse and violence such as domestic labour and child marriage that are at height during this decade of life – especially girls. Girls who marry early are most at risk in being caught up in a negative cycle of premature child-bearing, high rates of maternal mortality and child undernutrition.

“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.” Large teenage population is actually a unique demographic asset. By investing in adolescent education and training, countries can reap a large and productive workforce, contributing significantly to the growth of national economies.

Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF (HKCU), Irene Chan, also noted, “Adolescents today, including Hong Kong’s post-90s and even post-millennium generations, face multiple global challenges, among them the economic turmoil, climate change, explosive urbanisation, aging societies, the rising costs of healthcare, and escalating humanitarian crises. We must put more emphases and resources on equipping them to content with the impact.”

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

– Improving data collection to increase the understanding of adolescents’ situation and 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 youth to participate and voice their opinion, for example in national youth councils, youth forums, community service initiatives, online activism and more;
– 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 to prevent adolescents from being prematurely catapulted into adulthood.

“Millions of young people around the world are waiting for a greater action by all of us. Giving all young people the tools they need to improve their own lives will foster a generation of economically-independent citizens who are fully engaged in civic life and able to actively contribute to their communities,” said Lake.

As part of its commitment to reaching out to adolescents worldwide, UNICEF today re-launched Voices of Youth (VOY), a youth website on global themes. The platform is youth driven and allows young people to learn, discuss and take action on matters that affect their lives. Hong Kong’s local VOY initiative was launched last year by HKCU. Entering its second phase, VOY will collaborate with RTHK’s online radio platform, TeenPower, to continue infusing the voices of the youth into society on issues that concerns them, promoting children’s right to participation. For more information, visit http://www.unicef.org.hk/education/voices-of-youth

To learn more about the world’s adolescents,
please click the followings to read The State of the World’s Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity