The Differences in Teenagers From Around the World

According to the UNICEF report "Adolescence: an Age of Opportunity," 1.2 billion children ages 10 to 19 live in the world, as of 2010, and more than half of them live in Asia 2. No matter where a teen lives, he is sure to experience intense and profound physical, emotional and social changes as he matures. However, when it comes to education, technology or basic health and welfare, the differences among teenagers from one continent to another can vary widely -- and wildly.


Education is compulsory in most industrialized countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Japan. However, according to UNICEF's "Progress for Children: A Report Card on Adolescence," the rates of compulsory education are low or even nonexistent in nonindustrialized countries, particularly in rural or underdeveloped areas in Asia and Africa 12. And while gender equality has been reached in most primary schools around the world, it is still an issue when it comes to secondary schooling. In most countries, more boys than girls are enrolled in secondary schools, except for schools in Latin American and the Caribbean, where the opposite is true. Around the globe, a significant decrease in enrollment between primary and secondary schooling in general exists -- only 56 percent of the world’s population completes secondary education, and this gap appears to be increasing, especially in developing counties in sub-Saharan Africa.


Mobile communications and social media platforms have made it increasingly possible for teenagers around the world to communicate with each other. Many countries, in fact, have developed their own social media platforms, including the social networking site Facebook, which developed “Facebook Zero,” a mobile site free of data charges that is available in 45 countries, including many in Africa, where Internet charges can be 50 to 100 times higher than the cost in North American countries. However, while teenagers in industrialized nations have access to widespread information technology, a vast disparity still exists when it comes to teenagers who live in developing countries. According to UNICEF's "Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity," this disparity not only occurs between rich and poor countries, but also among the rich and poor who live in those developing countries 2.

Health and Nutrition

During the past 50 years, thanks to higher immunization levels and better nutrition, mortality rates for adolescents around the world have decreased dramatically. Despite these improvements, teenage mortality is still a complex issue in many countries, where lack of physical activity, mental illnesses, exposure to violence, and complications from pregnancy and childbirth all contribute to adolescent mortality. Obesity is also an issue. According to the American Heart Association, about 1 in 3 children in the United States is overweight, and in 11 different countries, including Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Bolivia, nearly one-fifth of teenage girls are overweight 3. On the flip side, however, nearly 50 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 who live in India are underweight an undernourished, which can leave them vulnerable to disease and a lifetime of health problems.

Drugs and Alcohol

Despite the stereotypes, problems with drugs, alcohol, tobacco and unprotected sex are not just “Americanized” concerns. Experimentation with drugs and alcohol is a global issue; according to UNICEF's "Progress for Children" report, more than 1 in 4 adolescents ages 13 to 15 reported drinking alcohol within the past 30 days, with the highest exposure in the countries of Seychelles, Jamaica and Antigua 1. Tobacco use was the highest in Latin American and Caribbean countries, where about one-quarter of female and male adolescents reported experimenting with illicit drugs. Violence is also a major concern. In the Americas, including El Salvador and Brazil, for example, the rate of adolescent homicide among teenage boys is more than double the world’s average.

Sexual Activity

Unprotected sex also remains an enormous concern among adolescents because many of the world’s teenagers live in countries with high rates of HIV. According to the UNICEF report "Progress for Children," about 2.2 million adolescents worldwide are living with HIV -- 1.8 million of those in sub-Saharan Africa, where contraception is low or nonexistent, especially in rural or poor areas 1. In more developed countries, such as Europe, there are about 66,000 adolescents with HIV. Although its rates have declined, teen pregnancy is a worldwide problem, especially in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, which have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. In many Asian and North African countries, however, most teenage births occur within the bounds of marriage.

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