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Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health

As adolescents transition from childhood to adulthood, they normally benefit from the influence of adult role models, social norms and structures, and community groups (peer, religious or cultural). Humanitarian emergencies are accompanied by inherent risks that increase adolescents’ vulnerability to violence, poverty, separation from families, sexual abuse, and exploitation. These factors can disrupt protective family and social structures, peer networks, schools and religious institutions, and can greatly affect the ability of adolescents to practice safe reproductive health behaviors. Their new environment can be violent, stressful, and/or unhealthy. Adolescents (especially young women) who live under marginalized circumstances are highly vulnerable to sexual coercion, exploitation and violence, and may have no choice but to engage in high-risk or transactional sex for survival.

Adolescents are a heterogeneous group. Their risks and needs may vary depending on the environment and local context as well as their marital status, education status, disability status, gender identity, bodily identity, sexual orientation and social and economic status.

For more information about the IAWG’s work in ASRH, please see the ASRH Sub-Working Group page.

Key Messages:

Build upon adolescents’ capacities to be effective humanitarian actors, and support local adolescent-led initiatives and organizations in humanitarian responses. This includes crisis-affected adolescents such as refugees and internally displaced persons living in informal urban settlements and slums.

SRH programs and services tailored to adolescents should include age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education and can be delivered in community, facility, and educational environments.

ASRH programs should be multi-year and multi-sectoral, and facilitate iterative and reflective processes of program development that engage adolescents along the disaster risk management cycle.

Facts & Stats

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The risk of maternal mortality is highest for adolescent girls under 15 years old, and complications in pregnancy and childbirth is a leading cause of death among adolescent girls in developing countries.

Reference: WHO, maternal mortality, 2015

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The most recent estimates indicate that almost one in five women aged 20 to 24 (19%) had a live birth by their 18th birthday.

Reference: UNFPA, Adolescent Pregnancy: A Review of the Evidence, New York, 2013

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Fourteen percent of all unsafe abortions in low- and middle-income countries are among women aged 15–19 years. About 2.5 million adolescents have unsafe abortions every year, and adolescents are more seriously affected by complications than are older women.

Reference: WHO, Adolescent pregnancy, 2014

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Adolescents account for about 5% of all people living with HIV and about 12% of new adult HIV infections.

Reference: UNICEF, Adolescents are the outliers in the AIDS response, 2016

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It is estimated that some 250,000 children and adolescents under the age of 18 are involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. Thousands of children have been recruited into armed groups in the Central African region (Chad, Central African Republic and Sudan).

Reference: Fact sheet: Children Associated with armed groups and forced central Africa, UNICEF, 2011