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In a knife-edge position
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Adolescents inevitably find themselves at the sharpest edge of a tension between participation and protection that all children face. They are the world’s most immediate heirs: the next-age group to gain access to the advantages and opportunities of adulthood yet also the group most likely to find itself endangered by the ugliest failures of society.

Recent studies have confirmed what those who work with adolescents know from experience: that adolescents benefit from feeling a strong sense of connection to home and school; that they thrive when they have close relationships, are valued in their community and have opportunities to be useful to others; that they value positive relationships with adults, safe spaces and meaningful opportunities to contribute...

There are numerous examples throughout the world of adolescents trying to effect social change by influencing the behaviour of their peers. In Montenegro, Yugoslavia, the United Nations Children’s Fund has supported seminars to train young Red Cross volunteers in peer-education methods. They use innovative role-play techniques to dramatize the issues teenagers may encounter, such as whether or not to have sex, how to say no to risky behaviour and how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

Teenage peer educators are also combating HIV/AIDS throughout Africa, for example, in youth-friendly clinics in Zambia where drama, poetry, music and the electronic media convey key information on HIV/AIDS, other diseases and pregnancy.

The idea of adolescents addressing the risky behaviour of other young people takes an intriguing form in some parts of the United States of America. In some areas adolescents take on responsibility of sentencing their peers in court. These “teen courts” involve volunteers aged 8 to 18 — some of them former offenders — as attorneys, judges and juries trying their peers for non-violent crimes, traffic infractions or school-rule violations. The model is also now being explored in Germany and Japan.

In Thailand, as part of a youth camp for ending violence against children and women, 60 young people were trained to become volunteers and catalysts to both monitor domestic violence in their community and campaign to stop it. As a result of the initiative, a national law on domestic violence is now under review.

During adolescence, as in early childhood, people with disabilities are routinely excluded from the normal patterns of everyday life. In Belarus, UNICEF has supported programmes aimed at integrating young people with disabilities into society, training them for more independent living and equipping them with labour skills. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the inclusion of the opinions and views of children with disabilities in the UNICEF programme-design process was ensured through three seminars where 150 boys and girls from all over the country with speech, hearing, visual and motor impairment discussed their shared problems and identified helpful strategies and activities. In addition, a seminar to observe the annual anniversary of Iran’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was hosted by children with disabilities...

Even in acknowledging the potential of adolescents and their positive achievements, it is vital to recognize that they are at high risk from the life-threatening effects of unconscionable adult behaviour: for example, trafficking children into forced labour and prostitution or forcibly recruiting them as soldiers.

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