The 10-19 age group is a unique window of opportunity for well-being, health and development, through a person's life.

Yet globally, 1.1 million adolescents are dying each year from preventable causes. Millions more are suffering abuse, injury and ill health - or failing to reach their potential. During times of crisis, as with Covid-19, it’s worse.

In failing adolescents the whole of society is losing out. And we jeopardise efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Make adolescent well-being a priority

Young people themselves have joined forces with major international agencies, civil society and Governments to call for an accelerated global response.

We call for action on three priorities:

 

Engage and empower adolescents;

Engage adolescents in all legal, policy and programme processes that affect them, by:

  • placing adolescents at the forefront of this call to action and all its related components;
  • strengthening national platforms for increased and equitable adolescent engagement in developing policies and programmes that affect them; and
  • empowering young people to demand their rights and to hold national systems and institutions accountable so that their distinct and diverse needs are met.

Develop strong multisectoral, whole-of-government policy approaches that truly address adolescent health and well-being, by:

  • developing and adopting a framework for adolescent well-being, using a multisectoral and multistakeholder lens, to ensure cohesive programming for and measurement of adolescent well-being;
  • prioritizing the collection of more and higher-quality data about adolescents that can be disaggregated by age, gender and other characteristics, to guide action and define who they are and what they want; and
  • strengthening partnerships at all levels to ensure linkages between the adolescent well-being agenda and broader efforts to address young people’s livelihoods, education and skills, as well as productivity.
  • Increase the level and effectiveness of domestic and donor spending on adolescent well-being, in line with commitments made on UHC and beyond the health sector, to provide all adolescents with mandatory, prepaid pooled funding for services that comprehensively address adolescent needs;
  • Commit to prioritize adolescent well-being in resolutions submitted at the World Health Assembly in 2021 and beyond; and
  • Mobilize efforts towards a first Global Summit on Adolescents in 2023, aiming to increase significantly the levels of commitment and global funding for adolescents and to accelerate action towards 2030.¹

¹  This is in line with the objectives of ‘Youth2030: The United Nations Youth Strategy’ and the agenda to accelerate progress on the SDGs in the Decade of Action 2020-2030.

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Why is action needed?

The largest population of adolescents in history, 1.2 billion

There are now 1.2 billion adolescents worldwide and this number will increase until 2050. Nearly nine out of ten adolescents live in low- and middle-income countries. The health and well-being of adolescents, now and in their adult lives, depend on their education, skill development, employability and access to high-quality health services. Adolescents also need a supportive environment that helps them to stay healthy and empowered, embrace gender equality norms and claim their rights.

Investment in adolescents delivers the “triple dividend”. This means improving health and well-being now, enhancing it throughout the life course and contributing to the health and well-being of future generations.

On top of this, a thriving adolescent population fuels economic growth helping to increase productivity, decrease health expenditure and reduce inequities across generations.

Every adolescent has the right to a safe environment – including the right to food, water, housing as well as physical security – and also the right to claim education, skills and competencies.

Also, every adolescent should have self-esteem, a sense of agency and be able to make meaningful choices. This includes the capacity for self-expression and self-direction appropriate to their evolving capacities and stage of development. Every adolescent should have the capability to be socially, culturally and civically active. And equipped to contribute to change and development in their own lives and communities.

Vital areas include: identity - feeling comfortable in your own self and with identity(s), including physical, cultural, social and sexual identity; purpose – every adolescent having a sense of purpose, desire to succeed and optimism about the future; resilience – being quipped to handle adversities both now and in the future, in a way that is appropriate to a young person’s evolving capacities and stage of development; and fulfilment - feeling that they are fulfilling their potential now and will be able to do so in the future.

Adolescents are entitled to information and services that meet all their needs. This includes information and services relating to noncommunicable diseases, injuries, healthy eating and nutrition, mental well-being, risks of tobacco and other substance abuse, physical activity, social support and the cultivation of healthy relationships. Provision of these should be consistent with adolescents’ evolving capacities, and free of stigma and discrimination, and should uphold their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

And adolescents face multiple barriers in accessing the knowledge, information, health-care services and commodities they need.

Most of their health and well-being issues are preventable or treatable, but appropriate care and services for adolescents are often either inadequate or absent. In addition, many service providers do not fully understand their needs. Age-specific challenges can be exacerbated by gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, location, education level, poverty, marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity, and migratory status, among other factors.

Adolescents have not benefited from the reduction in mortality seen in younger children. While deaths in children under five halved during the Millennium Development Goals period, reduction in adolescent mortality has stalled. Each year there are over 1.1 million adolescent deaths. Major contributors include road traffic injuries, suicide, interpersonal violence, HIV/AIDS and diarrhoeal diseases as well as ‘maternal conditions’ as a contributor to mortality for adolescent girls.

Achieving the SDGs including universal health coverage (SDG Target 3.8), requires keeping adolescents informed and healthy, so they can survive and thrive both now and in adulthood, as recognized in the United Nations Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health. However, to fulfil the promises of the SDGs, further support and commitment are required to deliver for adolescents, especially those most at risk of being left behind.

$1 invested in adolescent health = a x10 health, social and economic return.²

A $3.80 per person investment to end child marriage can bring a x6 return on investment. Plus, cut child marriage by 1/3.​³

97.5 million adolescent girls globally do not attend school. But every year of secondary education correlates with an 18% increase in a girl's future earning power.⁴

²  Sheehan P, Sweeny K, Rasmussen B, Wils A, et al. Building the foundations for sustainable development: a case for global investment in the capabilities of adolescents. Lancet 2017; 390: 1792–806.

³  Ibid.

⁴  https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2018/03/07/world-bank-invests-us32-billion-in-adolescent-girls-education-in-2-years