Investing When It Counts

Generating the evidence base for policies and programmes for very young adolescents

Very young adolescents, children aged 10-14, undergo tremendous physical, emotional, social, and intellectual changes. During this period, many very young adolescents experience puberty, their first sexual experiences, and in the case of girls, premature marriage. For a majority of children, early adolescence is marked by good health and stable family circumstances, but it can also be a period of vulnerability because of intense and rapid transitions to new roles and responsibilities as caretakers, workers, spouses, and parents. In many countries, the impact of HIV, poverty, and political and social conflict on families and communities has eroded traditional safety nets and increased the vulnerability of young adolescents.

It is therefore critical for policy and programmes to understand very young adolescents’ special opportunities as well as their vulnerabilities. In most countries, there are policies for children to be in school at this age, and one finds a higher proportion of this age group in school compared to older adolescents. Capitalizing on this is critical. However, it is also important to note that there are many who are not in school and therefore may be at higher risk for many negative outcomes. Aside from the education sector, very young adolescents have been particularly neglected by policymakers in that they fall out of the reach of most conventional child health, maternal health, and women’s empowerment programmes.