Leaving no adolescent behind requires policy coherence

By: Vidya Diwakar
Member of the Global Coalition to End Child Poverty

Schoolgirls with life skills in Bangladesh. Photo Credit - Ricci CoughlanDFID

Schoolgirls with life skills in Bangladesh. Photo Credit - Ricci CoughlanDFID

“Leave no one behind” is the mantra of the SDGs that has echoed far and wide in the new era of development targets. When focusing on child poverty, we add an emphasis that to uphold this mantra requires that we leave no adolescent behind

As an earlier CPAN article noted, adolescence is a time of change. It can be a time of hope, opening up potential pathways out of poverty. However, processes like discrimination and social exclusion (based on differences in gender, location, ethnicity, sexuality and many other aspects) can obstruct these pathways. As that article stated, poverty exacerbates the risk of exclusion of adolescents through stigma, poor access to services and lack of social networks. By promoting societies in which no adolescent is left behind and moreover in which adolescents are allowed to thrive, we can help prevent the transmission of poverty to the next generation of children.

So knowing the what and the why (specifically, why we should care about the second decade), the question then turns to the how. How do we ensure that we address this exclusion and leave no adolescent behind? This was the question that several of us in a working group of the Global Coalition to End Child Poverty1 recently posed. In answering this, our group aims to highlight data and measurement gaps that need to be addressed, understand the costs and consequences of child poverty and exclusion during adolescence, and propose actions that governments and other stakeholders can take to provide adolescents with the support they need to thrive. 

To help us navigate these issues in greater detail, our working group held a side event at the Adolescence, Youth and Gender conference in Oxford last week. A key message that came up time and again during discussions in this event was that no single sectoral policy would suffice. The need to move away from silos to instead embrace policy coherence and the interconnectedness between different sectors was accordingly emphasised. 

For example, it is hard to imagine a successful labour force policy targeting poor adolescents that does not also ensure education to labour market links are strong or that schooling is of adequate quality. Equally, policies aiming to improve enrolment amongst very poor adolescent girls in some settings may be more successful if, for example, these are tied to food for education initiatives or cash transfers. To this end, insofar as poor girls face compounded intersecting inequalities, we need to adopt a gender lens in policies to end adolescent poverty.

Policy coherence is not just about effective coordination between these sectors, however. The synergies between different policies can be properly harnessed through conscious designing of policies and strong support to help implement these policies on the scale that is required. Here, again, is where the Global Coalition to End Child Poverty has a role to play. Our working group is creating a brief on what can be done. It is now up to national bodies, civil society advocates, and international coalitions such as ours to push this agenda forward and make sure that no adolescent is left behind.

(1) The Global Coalition to End Child Poverty was launched in September 2015 and brings together researchers, policy advocates and programming organisations with a shared commitment to tackling child poverty. It informs the public of the causes and consequences of child poverty, and advocates to ensure child poverty stays at the heart of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.