26 April 2012

New challenges facing world's 1.2 billion adolescents

A new generation of children that has survived the chief killers of early childhood now faces a host of new dangers as it enters adolescence.


A new generation of children that has survived the chief killers of early childhood now faces a host of new dangers as it enters adolescence, ranging from car crashes and gang violence to HIV and teen pregnancy, according to a comprehensive report on adolescence from the United Nations Children's Fund.

The report looks for the first time at the major challenges facing the world's 1.2 billion adolescents - which it defined as those "between ages 10 and 19" - as they make the transition into adulthood. Here are some key findings of the report, called: Progress for Children: A report card on adolescents. The full report, in pdf form, is available from UNICEF.

Raw numbers

Adolescents make up 18% of the world's population, and more than half live in Asia. India is home to the highest number of adolescents, at 243 million, followed by China, with around 200 million adolescents. In sub-Saharan Africa, adolescents make up the biggest slice of the population, with 23% of those aged 10 and 19.

The same is true of many of the least-developed countries, where adolescents make up 23% of the population, compared with 19% in developing countries and 12% in industrialised countries, according to the report.

Violent deaths

Although they have managed to avoid many of the infections that are the chief killers of young children, adolescents are not out of the woods. According to the report, 1.4 million adolescents die from injuries related to traffic accidents, childbirth complications, suicide, Aids, gang-related violence and other causes. In some countries in Latin America, including El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Brazil and Colombia, more boys die from homicide than car accidents or suicide.

And in Africa, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the chief killers for girls aged 15 to 19.

Early marriage child birth

In many developing countries, adolescent girls leap from childhood to adulthood, marrying and bearing children before they are ready, cutting short their opportunities for education. Globally, some 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth each year, accounting for around 11% of all births.

About 90% of births to adolescents occur within marriage. Countries of Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest proportion of babies born to an adolescent mother. In Niger, half of young women aged 20 to 24 gave birth before the age of 18.

HIV, Aids

Some 2.2 million adolescents are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, and most of them do not know they are infected. Adolescent girls make up the lion's share of this number, with 1.3 million infected with HIV.

Many were infected through transmission of the virus from their mothers at birth, but many others become infected through unprotected sex or dirty needles.


Some 90% of children globally are enrolled in primary schools, but enrolment in secondary school still lags, especially in developing nations in Africa and Asia.

According to the report, 71 million adolescents worldwide are not in secondary school, and as many as 127 million young people aged 15 to 24 are illiterate, with most of these clustered in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

(Reuters Health, April 2012)

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