UNFPAState of World Population 2003
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HOME: STATE OF WORLD POPULATION 2003: Giving Priority to Adolescents
State of World Population
Overview of Adolescent Life
Gender Inequality and Reproductive Health
HIV/AIDS and Adolescents
Promoting Healthier Behavior
Meeting Reproductive Health Services Needs
Comprehensive Programmes for Adolescents
Giving Priority to Adolescents
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Giving Priority to Adolescents

Policy Environment
Rights-based Programmes
Mobilizing Community Support
Involving Young People in Programming
The Costs of Failing to Act

Rights-based Programmes

There is international consensus, affirmed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the ICPD, that young people enjoy and are entitled to exercise basic human rights. This provides a strong basis for programmes addressing adolescent sexual and reproductive health concerns.

Increasingly, as in other areas of development, programme planners in this field are adopting a rights-based programming approach which stresses states’ obligations to enable individuals to enjoy their rights, a shift away from traditional approaches that tend to emphasize the needs of vulnerable populations without fully taking into account their capacities and rights or strategies to empower them.

A rights-based approach to development recognizes that people become empowered to act on their own behalf and enjoy their human rights as they gain access to relevant information, skills and opportunities. For adolescents, this implies progressive measures to remove barriers to the realization of their reproductive health and rights, to prevent and punish rights violations, and to take concrete measures to achieve rights.

Activities that promote the rights of young people include:

  • Mainstreaming human rights education in educational policies, sexuality education for adolescents both in and out of school, training programmes, and community outreach.(9)
  • Mobilizing public and political commitment to policies that address neglected reproductive rights issues including early and forced marriage, sexual violence, male responsibility, and rights to sexual and reproductive health information and services.(10)
  • Establishing national and local youth policies and programmes that emphasize gender equality and the rights of young people to sexual and reproductive health, and specify measures and allocate funds to fulfil them.(11)
  • Ensuring the participation of non-governmental, human rights, women’s and youth-serving organizations in reproductive health policy, and legislative and programming processes.(12)
  • Strengthening youth groups’ capacities to participate at all stages of programming, facilitating their contribution to policy and legislative debate, and to successful programme implementation.(13)
  • Creating coalitions advocating for legal reforms, enforcement measures and legislative reviews to safeguard adolescents’ rights, especially in critical areas such as violence, marriage, education and reproductive health.
  • Ensuring young people’s participation in these efforts.

Success will depend on integrating these actions with broader national frameworks for alleviating poverty in developing countries and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (see box), including reform processes such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and Sector-wide Approaches to Health Reform (SWAps). These national plans often do not reflect international agreements that address the rights and needs of young people.


In 2000, 189 governments signed on to a set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), most to be achieved by 2015, outlining progress from 1990 levels:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
  2. Achieve universal primary education.
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
  4. Reduce child mortality.
  5. Improve maternal health.
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
  8. Develop a global partnership for development.

As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in 2002, “The Millennium Development Goals, particularly the eradication of poverty and hunger, cannot be achieved if questions of population and reproductive health are not squarely addressed. And that means stronger efforts to promote women’s rights, and greater investment in education and health, including reproductive health and family planning.” See Sources

Indicators developed to measure progress towards the Millennium Development Goals refer to young people as an important sub-population whose health and well-being should be monitored. But some advocates for youth have been disappointed by the absence of goals specifically recognizing the special needs of this commonly marginalized age group.

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