Adolescents an age of opportunity and challenge

Saturday, 5 March 2011 00:11 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Shezna Shums

Investing in the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 can break entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity, says UNICEF in its 2011 State of the World’s Children report titled ‘Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity.’ 

The State of the World’s Children report states that strong investments during the last two decades have resulted in enormous gains for young children up to the age of 10. The 33 percent drop in the global under-five mortality rate shows that many more young lives have been saved; and that in most of the world’s regions girls are almost as likely as boys to go to primary school, and millions of children now benefit from improved access to safer water and critical medicines such as routine vaccinations.

“Greater investment in the education and training of youth could break the root causes of poverty and discrimination and significantly contribute to the growth of Sri Lanka’s economy,” said Minister of Youth Affairs and Skills Development Dullas Alahapperuma. “Adolescents today face a unique set of collective global challenges, including an uncertain economic outlook, high levels of youth unemployment, an escalating number of humanitarian crises, climate change and rapid urbanisation. Faced with these challenges, we have to equip young people with the skills and knowledge to build a prosperous and peaceful future,” said the UNICEF Representative for Sri Lanka, Reza Hossaini, referring to the uncertainties faced by emerging young people. The UNICEF State of the World’s report 2011 was launched in Colombo in partnership with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development.

The report sets out that adolescence is a critically important age. Young people who are poor or marginalised are less likely to make the transition to secondary education during adolescence, and they are more likely to experience exploitation, abuse and violence such as domestic labour and child marriage, especially if they are girls.

Girls who marry early are most at risk of being caught up in a negative cycle of premature child-bearing, high rates of maternal mortality and child under nutrition.

Girls also experience higher rates of domestic and/or sexual violence than boys, and are more susceptible to the risk of HIV infection.

Sri Lanka has an adolescent population of more than three million. Steady investments in health, education, water and sanitation services have resulted in improving and high survival rates, better literacy levels and improved access to safe water and sanitation. This new report provides data on youth around the world and indicates 28 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 in Sri Lanka.

This figure in however lower than the South Asian average which stands at 54 births per 1,000 aged between 15 and 19. The report also suggests that up to 54 percent of females aged between 15 and 19 in Sri Lanka believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife.

The report highlights that with 81 million young people out of work globally in 2009, youth unemployment remains a concern in almost every country as the increasing technological labour market requires skills that many young people do not posses and stresses that in many countries large teenage populations are a unique demographic asset that is often overlooked. Professor Savitri Goonesekera, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Colombo who was at the head table said that it was important for policy changes to be made by the Sri Lankan government to address the issues affecting adolescents in the country.  She also said that another crucial element for which provision had to be made, was a definite age by which children and adolescents are defined especially with regard to giving consent or not to matters affecting them.

At the launch was an important point that was brought up which requested that the report be translated into Sinhala and Tamil for the benefit of all Sri Lankans.

Another crucial element that will help in translating this report into Tamil was brought up by Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe, Commissioner-General of Rehabilitation who was one of the invitees to the launch. He said that it was important to have this report and other similar reports printed in all three languages and specially in Tamil, because as a person in charge of Rehabilitation, especially ex child LTTE combats, such reports would be helpful to them.