Meeting the development and participation rights of adolescent girls
  by Maksud Elahi

The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as a person below the age of 18. However, developmental initiatives that seek to address the needs of children have considered infants and young children as their major area of focus. Without in any way detracting from the importance of these interventions, there is now an increasing realisation that older children also have special needs and rights.

According to the accepted definition of WHO, the age group between 10-19 is termed as adolescence’. This is a very crucial stage in the lives of young people. Unfortunately society often views adolescents as "problems". It is not recognised that these young people also have rights to an enabling and supportive environment offering them the opportunity to develop their full potential.

Young people can bring in unique energy, strength, optimism and idealism if they are given the right chance. They are on the threshold of adulthood and the opportunities they get will determine the extent to which they can realise their own potential and make meaningful contributions to the society.

The development needs of adolescents span a whole spectrum of rights from accessing basic education to adolescent friendly health services, responding to their special needs for acquiring life-skills and livelihoods in a safe and enabling environment.

Meaningful participation by adolescents and equal opportunities provided to both boys and girls is a fundamental pre-requisite for fulfilling the development rights of the adolescents.

Basic education: The reality of adolescents in many countries show that they are often deprived of access to formal schooling. In most cases they are engaged in work, where such access is difficult without recourse to alternatives like non-formal schooling or second chance education. Adolescent friendly health services: Existing health services in most countries are not geared to meeting the special needs of adolescents. Access to life-skills and livelihoods: Life-skills enable young people to acquire the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to manage their own lives with confidence and competence and make informed choices. Livelihood or vocational skills enable young people to achieve economic self-reliance and pursue future career options.

Enabling environment: where community, society and families understand and address the special needs of the adolescents and provide them with an environment free from violence, abuse, exploitation and discrimination.

Participation: to change the traditional mind-sets in society regarding young people and adolescents by ensuring that they are consulted on matters concerning their own lives and enabling them to contribute to the well-being of the society.

Within the context of adolescence, the situation of adolescent girls is particularly complex. In many parts of the world deep rooted traditions of patriarchy and subordination of women and girls conditioned from their infancy to an inferior status, make it difficult for adolescent girls to realise their rights.

Recognising the reality of adolescent girls, the United Nations Foundation has come forward to support initiatives in developing countries for realising the Development and Participation Rights of Adolescent Girls through a Global Project.

The Project initially supported the countries through UNICEF field offices in assessing the situation of adolescents and designing interventions applicable to the particular context of the country.

The Project started in the year 1999, following a planning meeting held in Pawling, New York involving several country participants, including adolescents themselves. In this planning phase of the Project, Bangladesh, China, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Jamaica, Jordan, Malawi, Mali, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Zambia participated. Countries identified specific areas of intervention for their concentration. In many of the countries in Africa, HIV/AIDS and prevention through involvement of young people was an area of focus. Other countries focused on education or empowerment of girls through life skills and livelihood training, responding to issues of concern like early marriage, gender discrimination and subordination of women and girls.

An important aspect of the Project has been ensuring the participation of young people in the planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of the interventions. The Project has evolved now from the planning stage to the implementation stage. Recognising their common interest and commitment in realising the rights of adolescents, this phase is built on a close partnership between the three major UN agencies, UNFPA, WHO and UNICEF.

The project is enriched by the strength and experience of each partner agency and the collaboration between them helps the project to achieve a holistic perspective in addressing the rights of adolescents.

In addition, technical agencies having vast experience in dealing with adolescent issues including research like the Population Council, Commonwealth of Youth Programme, International Centre for Research on Women are some key associates in this project.

The countries in this implementation phase of the Project are Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Jordan, Mongolia, Mali, Malawi, Mauritania, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sao Tome and West Bank and Gaza.

At the start of the implementation phase, it was felt necessary to hold a meeting of the participating country teams. The objectives of this meeting were to:

To share experiences, review strategies and interventions and identify lessons learnt from the participating countries.

To build networks and connections between countries and the organising partners to strengthen programme implementation through exchange of information.

To identify technical support needs in programming for adolescents.

To generate indicators to measure impact of the project.

To hear the views and experiences of the adolescents at first hand Following countries participate in the meeting: Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, India, Jordan, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal and West Bank and Gaza.

The country teams comprised of adolescents, representatives from the national government, NGOs and UN organisations.

One of the key elements of the Dhaka meeting was to have an adolescent consultation along the adults meeting.

Bangladesh is one of the countries that participated in the initial planning meeting and contributed to the development of the Project. The country offices of all the three partner agencies, UNFPA, WHO and UNICEF jointly offered to host the meeting in Dhaka.

The Government of Bangladesh provided wholehearted support to the project in this country and welcomed the holding of the meeting in Dhaka.

Bangladesh is implementing an innovative model, based on partnerships between the Government, NGOs, UNICEF and UNFPA in addressing the needs of both married and unmarried girls. A field visit to some of the project areas in Bangladesh was part of the programme for the meeting in Dhaka.

On a longer term the lessons learnt from the experience of this Project would contribute to the evolution of policy guiding implementation of interventions involving adolescents in all the partner organisations.


Source: The Daily Independent, Dhaka, March 1, 2002


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