Adolescents – defined by the United Nations as those between the ages of 10 and 19 – number 1.2 billion in the world today, making up 16 per cent of the world’s population. As children up to the age of 18, most adolescents are protected under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet, their vulnerabilities and needs often remain unaddressed.
Neither young children nor adults, adolescents lack the services that respond to their distinctive needs. Interventions for children very often focus on the younger ages; adolescents ‘age out’ of paediatric health care, for example, and they are often unreached by programmes for adults.
Many of the development successes over the past decade have been the result of targeted investment in programmes and policies benefiting younger children, and investing in a safe, healthy and productive transition from childhood to adulthood is critical to consolidating these successes. Not to invest in adolescence, or to focus on adolescents only when they become ‘problems’, is to squander the investment already made in the early years.
Adolescent well-being encompasses many dimensions and UNICEF monitors several adolescent-specific indicators in the following vital areas:
Data Collection for Adolescents: The case of MICS
Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) provide one of the largest sources of statistically sound and internationally comparable data in the areas of maternal and child health, nutrition, child mortality, water and sanitation, education, child protection and HIV/AIDS. Since 1995, UNICEF has supported more than 100 countries to carry out nearly 300 household surveys. One of the greatest utilities of MICS is the ability to disaggregate the data by a large number of stratifiers such as age, sex, education, geographic area, residence (urban or rural), ethnicity, religion, economic status, marital status, and combinations of these.
MICS collect a wealth of information on adolescents, including age-specific indicators for adolescents aged 15-19 on reproductive health, education, sexual behaviour, and HIV/AIDS. There also are modules on select topics relevant to some or all of the adolescent age group, including child labour and child discipline.
Data on populations aged 15-19 are included in MICS standard tables for women 15-49 and cover topics such as contraceptive prevalence, unmet need for family planning, antenatal care coverage, institutional deliveries, child marriage, polygyny, attitudes towards domestic violence, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), knowledge of HIV, attitudes towards people living with HIV, and uptake of HIV counselling and testing during antenatal care. Similarly, in surveys which include the men’s questionnaire, results for adolescent boys aged 15-19 can be extracted.
Data on household characteristics and children of young mothers aged 15-19 years are available from the MICS datasets. Further, it is also possible to use data on adolescents at the household level to identify adolescent orphans and those with parents living elsewhere, as well as to combine data on adolescents with household-level measures, for example, access to improved drinking water and sanitation facilities.
With the aim to gather evidence on the emerging challenges facing adolescents and youth, a new set of questions and indicators in domains relevant to adolescents and young people were added beginning with the fourth round of MICS (MICS4, conducted 2009-2011) and have been retained in the latest round, MICS5. These included access to media (television, radio and printed media) and technology (use of computers and internet), use of alcohol and tobacco, and subjective well-being. The module on subjective well-being, specifically designed for young people, includes questions on perceived life satisfaction in the areas of family, friendships, living environment, school, current job, income level, physical appearance and overall happiness. The questionnaire also captures young people’s assessment of recent changes in living conditions and their expectations about the future.
For a complete list of adolescent indicators available in MICS, please click here.
For more information on the MICS programme, please visit the MICS website.
The Adolescent Country Tracker (ACT) is an outcome-based framework to track adolescent wellbeing, developed by UNICEF in collaboration with partners. The framework includes globally comparable indicators which are closely linked to the Sustainable Development Goals. The framework aims to provide a common platform to advocate for greater attention and investments in adolescent girls and boys and help track the progress of adolescent development and wellbeing at a country level.
Guidance Document: Strengthening the Adolescent Component of National HIV Programmes through Country Assessments
This guidance document and its accompanying tool, the Adolescent Assessment and Decision-Makers Tool (AADM), were devised to facilitate country assessments aimed at strengthening the adolescent component of national HIV programmes. The purpose of the country assessments is to: (1) support country teams in the identification of equity and performance gaps affecting adolescent HIV programming; and (2) define priority actions to improve the effectiveness of the national adolescent HIV response.
In the foreword to this State of the World’s Children 2011 edition, Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF writes: “Adolescence is not only a time of vulnerability, it is also an age of opportunity. This is especially true when it comes to adolescent girls. We know that the more education a girl receives, the more likely she is to postpone marriage and motherhood – and the more likely it is that her children will be healthier and better educated. By giving all young people the tools they need to improve their own lives, and by engaging them in efforts to improve their communities, we are investing in the strength of their societies.”