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Developing national adolescent strategy

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Adiba Khaled

We are supporting the Government of Bangladesh in developing a National Adolescent Strategy (NAS) to strengthen the social and civic engagement of adolescents that will expand key social services. The NAS will consider adolescent sensitive responses for emergency situations, disability, ethnicity, gender, reproductive health, nutrition, HIV / AIDS, and tools for enhancing data on adolescents and strengthening national monitoring mechanism for implementation.

This assignment has been commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, Government of Bangladesh, working in partnership with UNICEF.

Challenges

Developing such a multi-dimensional approach requires buy-in of all the relevant actors and compliance with a set of negotiated rules that would govern the network. To develop inter-ministerial linkages from inception, the process was started early to ensure both commitment and compliance of all the actors.

The Covid-19 pandemic slowed down the study for a few months. To address this a series of online workshops with adolescents and relevant stakeholders were organised, Technical committee meetings were conducted to finalise the strategy.

Our approach

Guided by a multi-sectoral Technical Steering Committee led by the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs  and supported by UNICEF, our approach to development of the NAS was participative and involved consultations with a wide range of stakeholders across sectors. This included adolescents from different age groups and backgrounds, parents and caregivers, community leaders, teachers, government officials at national and sub-national levels, civil society organisations, UN agencies and other stakeholders. Study area involves eight districts reflecting a range of urban/rural characteristics: Dhaka, Rangpur, Sylhet, Barisal, Chittagong, Khulna, Comilla, and Cox’s Bazaar.

Based on research commissioned on the situation of adolescents, data was collected between July and December 2019. The outcomes of a parent’s survey, key informant interviews and focus group discussions with adult stakeholders, focus group discussions with adolescents in 11 districts and an adolescent survey poll using the U-Report digital platform, informed the situation analysis and contributed to development of the NAS Framework.

The conceptual framework identifies five strategic directions which provides the emerging structure for the NAS including health and wellbeing, education and learning, protection, transition to work, and participation. In light of current National Adolescent Health Strategy (NAHS) it is anticipated that each strategic direction will describe specific context, desired overall change (goal), a set of objectives relative to the goal and strategies to achieve this. These will be inclusive of the specific needs of adolescent girls, adolescents with disabilities and other marginalised adolescents including those who experience humanitarian crises and displacement.

Outcomes

Recognising that investment in adolescents now is an investment in Bangladesh’s future, the National Adolescent Strategy (NAS) sets out the Government’s agenda and priorities in relation to all adolescents 10-19 years old. It acknowledges that improving outcomes for young people is everyone’s business and is thus situated in the comprehensive policy and legislative landscape for overall adolescent wellbeing which takes a cross-sectoral, societal approach to support adolescents in their everyday lives. The NAS aligns with current policies and provides for the development and implementation of these policies and services. It intends to offer adolescents a sense of autonomy in developing their self-worth and creating an avenue to participate in the developmental process of the country in the way they want.

The NAS embraces a rights-based approach to equity and inclusion. It is for all adolescents without discrimination or bias. It requires everyone to consider the specific needs of adolescent girls and boys, and those with a non-binary identity, of adolescents with disabilities, and other marginalised adolescent populations, so they can feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. The five strategic directions are founded in global frameworks, tailored to Bangladesh’s context – health, nutrition and wellbeing, learning and skills development, safety and protection, transition to work, and participation and civic engagement – and equity and inclusion are considered implicit in all outcomes, objectives and priority actions.

The NAS is a high-level macro strategy. As with the National Adolescent Health Strategy, the details of implementation and costing will be developed and described later, in the second phase.

We are implementing this project together with Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.

Photo: Unsplash

Areas of expertise