Friday 20 October 2023

With and for Adolescents: Their Future is Now

Presentation at the Global Forum for Adolescents

By Ruth Ajawu

On October 5, 2023, Shades of Us attended the 2023 Global Forum for Adolescents (GFA) organised by the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in collaboration with Education as a Vaccine, Stand With A Girl (SWAG) Initiative, PLAN International, World Health Organization (WHO), and other United Nations (UN) Agencies.

An Insight into Adolescents' Health and Development from the perspective of the Federal Ministry of Health

Today, adolescents in Nigeria are at the heart of a dedicated branch within the Department of Family Health. This branch has been instrumental in addressing the pressing concerns of adolescents' health and development in our nation.

Creating the Right Environment: Enabling Adolescents to Thrive

The Federal Ministry of Health has been hard at work in ensuring a conducive environment for adolescents to flourish. This includes the formulation of essential policies, population guidelines, and last year's review of the national policy on adolescent health and development in Nigeria. The Ministry boasts an implementation plan and a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework, supported by various documents that collectively champion the health and wellbeing of adolescents and young people.

Coordination is Key: Harmonising Efforts for Adolescent Wellbeing

For seamless coordination, the Ministry has established the Nigerian Technical Working Group on Adolescent Health and Coordination. This group operates both at the national and state levels, serving as an advisory body to the honorable Minister of Health. It meets biannually to strengthen the coordination of adolescents' health and development in Nigeria.

Moreover, the Ministry provides vital technical support to states and has been diligently working on adapting national policies to suit the local context. With the support of WHO and UNICEF, the health system has been fortified to provide quality healthcare services to our youth.

Adolescents Speak Up: The Key Issues they Face

Adolescents in Nigeria grapple with a variety of challenges, and their voices are vital in driving change. Among the prominent issues faced are:

  • Inclusion for all: Persons with disabilities are often marginalised and underserved in Nigeria. Even as efforts are made to improve the lives of adolescents, the needs of persons with disabilities are frequently overlooked. Accessibility in infrastructure, educational materials, and beauty standards remains a significant concern, and inclusivity should be at the forefront of the adolescent rights movement.

  • Understanding Matters: Many adolescents feel that the older generation does not truly grasp the issues they face. While education is undoubtedly important, adolescents face a multitude of challenges such as cyberbullying, mental health issues, body shaming, low self-esteem, and social pressures. These issues need to be acknowledged and addressed.

  • Healthcare Hurdles: Access to healthcare, particularly sexual and reproductive healthcare and mental healthcare, is often limited for adolescents. Tragically, many young people suffer from mental health issues and resort to self-harm and even suicide due to the lack of adequate mental health support. Access to quality education is also a pressing concern.

A Multi-Sectoral Approach: The Way Forward for Adolescents

Given the diverse nature of adolescents' issues, a multi-sectoral approach is the need of the hour. To address these challenges effectively, stakeholders from various sectors need to collaborate closely. An integrated strategy should be developed, identifying key sectors, relevant actors, and potential solutions. Education, employment, social welfare, information technology – all these aspects of adolescent wellbeing should be considered. A common agenda is crucial to align efforts and make a lasting impact.

A Role for Everyone: A Blueprint for Collaboration

Addressing adolescent issues is not the task of a single agency or organisation. Collaboration is key. All stakeholders, including government agencies, civil society organisations (CSOs), and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), must work together to ensure that young people have access to quality education, healthcare, and the support they need to thrive.

The Role of the Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education plays a pivotal role in improving the health and wellbeing of adolescents in Nigeria. They are dedicated to ensuring the safety of young people in schools, especially in light of recent attacks and violence. This commitment is part of the Safe School Initiative, which is now an annual endeavour. Moreover, the Ministry is focused on equipping teachers with the necessary skills to impact the young generation, updating information to be accurate and culturally sensitive, and encouraging schools to provide confidential counselling units.

Empowering Adolescents through Meaningful Engagement

The following should be prioritised:

  • Understanding Adolescents' Diversity: Adolescents are not a homogeneous group: they have diverse needs that must be recognized.

  • Policy Implementation and Funding: Funds should be allocated to support adolescents' health, education, wellbeing and implementation of policies.

  • Quality Education: Adolescents should be equipped with the skills they need to become productive and contributing adults to national development.

Expectations for a Brighter Tomorrow

  • Policies should be fully implemented, and commitments should translate into action.

  • Inclusion and representation of persons with disabilities in adolescent advocacy.

  • Adolescents' voices must be at the centre of decision-making processes.

  • Prioritisation of adolescent health and development by more states.

  • Establishment of a national day to celebrate adolescents.

  • Raising awareness about the health challenges adolescents face and creating safe environments for them to thrive.


Shades of Us believes that the journey to empowering adolescents in Nigeria is filled with determination, collaboration, and a resolute commitment to building a brighter future. Our adolescents are not just the leaders of tomorrow; they are the voices of today. By working together, we can ensure that their needs and aspirations are at the forefront of our nation's development. The future is bright when the youth are empowered and their potential unleashed.

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