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Investing In Adolescents Can Help Reduce Poverty, Improve Health, UNICEF Report Says

Additional investment in the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents – 88 percent of whom live in the developing world – has the potential to help alleviate inequality and poverty, UNICEF said in its annual State of the World’s Children report (.pdf) released on Friday, IRIN reports (2/25).

According to the report, adolescents face “unique challenges in health risks, from injuries to eating disorders, substance abuses and mental health issues,” though “teenagers in general are healthier today than in the past,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports (2/25). Countries’ investments in children over the last two decades have “helped save the lives of untold numbers of boys and girls up to age 10,” the Canadian Press reports. “The mortality rate for children five and younger has dropped by a third, and in most regions … [m]illions of youngsters have benefited from improved access to safe drinking water and routine vaccinations. But the picture shifts when children hit adolescence,” the news service writes (Snow, 2/25).

Adolescence is a dangerous time in the lives of many children, according to UNICEF. “This is the time when young people, especially girls, are at the highest risk of dangers such as child marriage, forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. But these dangers are yet to be reflected in child protection resources and assistance,” the Guardian’s “Poverty Matters Blog” reports. UNICEF said greater investment in adolescence can help achieve some of the U.N. Millennium Development Goal targets (Kelly, 2/25).  

“We need to focus more attention now on reaching adolescents – especially adolescent girls – investing in education, health and other measures to engage them in the process of improving their own lives,” Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director, said in a press release, IRIN writes. “Adolescence is a pivot point – an opportunity to consolidate the gains we have made in early childhood or risk seeing those gains wiped out,” Lake said (2/25).

“Adolescents face numerous global challenges both today and in the future, among them the current bout of economic turmoil, climate change and environmental degradation, explosive urbanization and migration, aging societies, the rising costs of healthcare, and escalating humanitarian crises,” the UNICEF release states (2/25). To address these issues, the report lists numerous recommendations, including a suggestion that countries begin collecting and analyzing data specifically about adolescents, the Canadian Press writes. It also calls for more funding for “education and training so adolescents have tools to lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to their national economies” (2/25).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.