Adolescence is the period of physical, psychological and social maturing from childhood to adulthood. Generally, the term ‘adolescents’ refers to individuals aged 10–19 years. Adolescents, as a distinct category, remain largely invisible in national policies and programmes. Although there are a large number of initiatives promoted by several ministries and agencies that directly or indirectly address adolescent girls’ concerns, there is little proper coordination among them.
Within the broad development context, adolescent Nepali girls are not progressing to the same extent as boys of the same age. Adolescent girls live at the interface of inequity, vulnerability, disparity and discrimination at all levels, from family to community to the state, curtailing their development opportunities. Owing to a combination of biological, psychological and social factors, adolescent girls are considered vulnerable to various problems such as trafficking, sexual exploitation, child labour, HIV and AIDS, early pregnancy, substance abuse, suicide, accidents and violence.
The adolescent population in Nepal is approximately 6.0 million or 24 percent of the total population; 75 percent of all married women married before they turned 19, and 16 percent before they were 15 years old. The contraceptive prevalence rate for modern methods is 43 percent overall, but only 8.9 percent among women aged 15-19 leading to a high rate of early pregnancy: some 42 percent of married 15–19-year-olds are already mothers.
Gender norms are at the root of prevailing inequities between adolescent girls and boys. Girls are undervalued and live in a social environment where resources are distributed unequally between boys and girls. Studies indicate that girls are more likely to be enrolled in public schools than their brothers, who are more likely to be enrolled in private schools. Girls are often taken out of school when they reach secondary level to engage in economic activities. Girls are expected to contribute substantially to household work and farming. At the same time, their economic contribution is undervalued and discounted, while there is an overemphasis on their reproductive role.
The government included adolescent sexual and reproductive health as a major component of the national Reproductive Health Strategy in 1998. The Family Health Division developed an Implementation Guide on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2007 to help district health managers, health facilities, NGOs, community-based organizations and educational institutions to implement adolescent sexual and reproductive health programmes. The Ministry of Local Development has developed a policy of inclusive budget allocation that specifies 10 percent allocation of resources for children and 10 percent for women and girls under the Local Governance and Community Development Programme.
Since 1999, UN agencies have been supporting the Ministry of Women Children and Social Welfare to prevent and protect girls from all forms of gender based violence, abuse and exploitation. The United Nations Adolescent Girls’ Task Force Committee is committed to increasing support for key policies and programmes that empower the hardest-to-reach adolescent girls with a particular focus on those aged 10–14 years. Over the coming five years the UN Country Team in Nepal will in selected districts provide adolescent girls with uninterrupted child-friendly basic and secondary education, quality alternative non-formal learning opportunities, strengthened the capacity of health system institutions to provide quality adolescent service, in selected districts increasing the access and utilization of essential micronutrients