African adolescents missing out on global health and education improvements

African adolescents missing out on global health and education improvements

Although adolescents have benefitted from progress in education and public health over the past two decades, a UNICEF report entitled "Progress for Children" reveals that tens of millions of adolescents are still without education and over 1 million are dying each year.

According to the report, the most challenging place for an adolescent to live is in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2050, it is estimated that the region will have the greatest number of adolescents in the world. However, youth employment in the region is low and only half of the children finish primary school.

Other alarming consequences of the benefits of progress not being equally shared amongst the total of 1.2 billion adolescents worldwide are also highlighted in the report.

The United Nations defines adolescents as those between the ages of 10 and 19.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta explained:

"The disadvantages of poverty, social status, gender or disability prevent millions of adolescents from realizing their rights to quality education, health care, protection and participation.

This comprehensive report card strengthens our understanding of the problems facing the poorest and most disadvantaged adolescents. It is time to attend to their needs; they must not be left behind."

According to the report, more investment is needed in order to improve the lives and wellbeing of adolescents. 1.4 million adolescents die each year due to childbirth complications, AIDS, violence, suicide, road traffic injuries and other causes. In Africa, the top cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 is complications in pregnancy and childbirth. In some Latin American countries, more teenage boys die from homicide than from suicide or road traffic injuries.

In early childhood, disease and nutrition are major threats, however, when entering adolescence, the risk of violence increases, particularly for teenage girls who are vulnerable to violence in marriage. A study conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo found that 70% of girls aged between 15 to 19 who had been married experienced violence from their current/former partner or spouse.

In the Caribbean, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, birth rates among adolescents are relatively high. According to the report, half of women aged 20 to 24 in Niger, gave birth before 18 years of age.

At present, 90% of primary school aged children worldwide are enrolled in primary schools. Although secondary education systems have been expanded in many countries, enrollment to these schools in the developing world, especially in Africa and Asia, remains low. In addition, many students of secondary school age are in primary schools. Sub-Saharan Africa has the worst secondary eduction indicators of any region.

Worldwide, approximately 71 million children are not in school, and 127 million adolescents aged between 15 and 24 are illiterate - primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

In order to realize the rights of all adolescents, significant efforts in policy, advocacy and programs are required according to the report.

Given that adolescence is a vital stage of childhood means that correctly investing in adolescents can overcome the poverty cycle, leading to social, economic and political benefits for adolescents, communities and nations. The report also points out that adolescents should be viewed as being able to really make an impact on communities, and therefore, it is important that programs and policies acknowledge adolescents capacity in terms of creativity, innovation and energy to solve their problems whilst protecting them.

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