Investing in adolescents can break cycles of poverty and inequity
NEW YORK, USA, 24 February 2011 - Mohamed, 17, and Hassan, 16, stand in a queue in front of the International Organization for Migration in Haradh, Yemen. The two Ethiopian boys are among the thousands of migrants that have been stranded in the country since last year.
Fed up with unemployment and bleak prospects in Ethiopia, Mohamed and Hassan decided to embark on a long and perilous journey to Saudi Arabia hoping for a better life. After borrowing money from neighbors and friends, they both managed to secure a place on a small boat carrying over 70 other migrants. “I was terrified during the ride. It was pitch-dark the whole time, and the sea was so rough that the water kept flowing in,” said Mohamed.
Sadly, Mohamed and Hassan never made it to the bright lights of Saudi Arabia’s cities. Instead, they were caught at the border by Saudi police and returned to Yemen after spending a few days in a prison cell. The gloomy streets of Haradh have now become their home. They’re waiting and hoping to be re-united with their families someday.
Focus on adolescents
Worldwide, escalating humanitarian crises and conflicts, economic recession, climate change and rapid urbanization have posed new threats to the aspirations of young people – and the situation is only expected to worsen over the next decade. Recognizing the unprecedented challenges faced by ‘generation next,’ UNICEF has placed adolescents at the center of its annual flagship report, ‘The State of the World’s Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity.’
“This is the group that has become very critical to the welfare and development of children around the world. It's a group that's often neglected in policy, in programmes.... And therefore, we felt adolescents as a focus of this year's SOWC report was a very important and timely one to make,” said Richard Morgan, Director of the UNICEF Division of Policy and Practice.
Globally, there are more than 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 who stand at the crossroads between childhood and the adult world. It is a pivotal time in their lives, when they need support in navigating new paths. But it is also a time when they need to feel integrated into society.
Breaking the cycle
Through ‘The State of the World’s Children 2011,’ UNICEF and its partners are drawing attention to the frustration and limitations many adolescents may feel once they are unable to transition from school to productive and dignified employment.
The report highlights the fact that investing in adolescents offers the best hope of breaking the entrenched cycle of poverty. Research clearly shows that children who are marginalized or poor are less likely to make the transition to secondary education and are more likely to experience violence, abuse and exploitation.
UNICEF believes that the need of the hour will be met by involving adolescents in the decision-making process, providing them with platforms of expression and understanding their role as active citizens and not just as passive recipients.
“Young people certainly need hope, they need opportunities,” said Mr. Morgan. “We can do a lot by working with adolescents and encouraging them as participants in addressing and solving the problems, including in emergency and humanitarian crisis situations.”
Creating opportunities for adolescents is a major priority for UNICEF. “We have to involve adolescents much more,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans. “We forget this part of the population who are not going to school, who do not have jobs. They are not listened to. They have so much energy, so much creativity. They are just waiting for us to say, ‘Go, build your country. Build your country with us.’’’
A year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti destroyed his home, Christian Dubois, 16, wonders if he will find a way to turn his ambitions into reality. His family is living hand-to-mouth from his mother’s meagre earnings, and Christian has not been able to attend school because they cannot afford the fees.
“There a lot of young people who are really talented who do some really incredible things, but they are discouraged by the situation,” said Christian. “When I think about what happened to us, it makes my heart ache. In life there are high points and low points. One has to experience that to understand it. But my mother always said, ‘As long as there is life, the