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Policy focus

Adolescents from Batu, Ethiopia © Nathalie Bertrams / GAGE 2021

GAGE’s Conceptual Framework and research have been shaped by key international agreements that are aimed at improving children’s rights and advancing gender equality – including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). GAGE, which is focused not only on adolescents, but also on the most vulnerable adolescents – including those with disabilities, refugees and IDPs, and young married girls – will in turn help to ensure that those global agreements are brought to life. The evidence GAGE is generating aims to ensure that adolescents’ age- and gender-specific needs receive the attention they deserve and will also help us understand how well international agreements are working in practice. With a robust longitudinal evidence base, policy and programming actors will be better placed to tailor their support to young people most at risk of being left behind. Below are some of the key international agreements that are relevant to the research GAGE is leading.


Today’s adolescents – an estimated 1.2 billion – represent the largest group of young people the world has yet seen, but they often remain invisible in policy and programming initiatives. How young people navigate the years between childhood and adulthood will impact not only their own futures but also the success of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. It is critical that while the 17 SDGs and 169 SDG targets are now linked to 230 individual SDG indicators, over half of those indicators do not yet have data to bring them to life. One of GAGE’s primary goals is to develop tools and methods for tracking progress for adolescent girls and boys. Below we have mapped out which SDG Goals and targets have the potential to improve adolescent well-being.

1. No poverty   
  • Reduce at least by half the proportion of children living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions (target 1.2)

2. Zero hunger

  • End all forms of malnutrition, including stunting and wasting, addressing the nutritional needs of adolescent girls (target 2.2).

3. Good health and well-being

  • Reduce the global maternal mortality rate (target 3.1).
  • Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes (target 3.7).
  • Promote mental health and well-being (target 3.4).

4. Quality education

  • Ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes (target 4.1).
  • By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university (target 4.3).
  • Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all (target 4.a).

5. Gender equality

  • End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere (target 5.1).
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against all girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (target 5.2).
  • Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (target 5.3).
  • Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work (target 5.4).
  • Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of girls at all levels (target 5.c).

6. Clean water and sanitation

  • By 2030, achieve adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and people in vulnerable situations (target 6.2).

8. Decent work and economic growth

  • Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all young people, and equal pay for work of equal value (target 8.5).
  • By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training (target 8.6).
  • Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms (target 8.7).
  • Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women (target 8.8).
  • By 2020, develop and operationalise a global strategy for youth employment and implement the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labour Organization (target 8.b)

11. Sustainable cities and communities 

  • Provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of children (target 11.2).
  • Provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green and public spaces, in particular for children (target 11.7).

13. Climate action

  • Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least-developed countries and small island developing states, including focusing on youth (target 13.b).

16. Peace, justice and strong institutions

  • Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere (target 16.1).
  • End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children (target 16.2)
  • Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all (target 16.3).
  • Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels (target 16.7).

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the international agreement that lays out children’s rights and governments’ obligations to protect them. In force since 1990, it has been ratified by nearly 200 countries, including every member of the United Nations except for the United States. While the UNCRC does not mention adolescents specifically, it defines children as all persons under the age of 18 and is therefore relevant to the majority of the young people on whom GAGE is focused. The UNCRC and the three updates known as ‘Optional Protocols’, recognise children’s rights to survive and thrive – to be protected from harm, to grow and develop into their own best persons, and to make their voices heard. It also mandates that governments report each year to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to detail the progress that is being made towards ensuring children’s rights on a national level. The Committee, in turn, provides countries with recommendations for improvement. The UNCRC is a lengthy and comprehensive document, with 54 articles addressing children’s and parents’ rights, as well special topics that help us understand childhood and the unique needs that children have, ranging from the rights of refugee children to children’s right to access to information from the media.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the international agreement aimed at protecting the rights of women. Adopted by the United Nations in 1979, CEDAW does not mention adolescents specifically. However, as its language refers to ‘women and girls’, CEDAW is relevant to the adolescent girls on whom GAGE is focused. CEDAW defines discrimination against women and girls broadly as any treatment on the basis of sex that prevents girls and women from enjoying their political, civil, cultural, economic and social rights. Although nearly 200 countries, including all of GAGE’s focal countries, have signed it, many have done so with reservations. From GAGE’s focal countries, only Bangladesh has noted reservations (about the article that calls for equality within marriage). Governments that have signed CEDAW are required to submit annual reports on progress towards gender equality to the CEDAW Committee, which in turn provides countries with recommendations for improvement. CEDAW has 30 articles that specify the rights of girls and women and call out particular spheres of life and groups of women and girls for special attention, ranging from girls at risk of child and forced marriage, human trafficking and sexual exploitation, to the specific needs of those living in rural areas.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was adopted in 1995 at the World Conference on Women held in Beijing, is an international agreement aimed at protecting and supporting girls’ and women’s human rights. Far more complex than CEDAW, and more attentive to gender than the UNCRC, the Beijing Platform is the first international agreement to identify the unique needs of the ‘girl child’. The Beijing Platform been endorsed by nearly 200 countries but is not legally binding. It does, however, call for countries to make regular progress reports. The next review of national and global progress, which takes place every five years, is scheduled for 2020. The Beijing Platform covers 12 areas, most of which mention adolescents or the girl child, ranging from poverty and armed conflict to political decision-making and institutional mechanisms for advancing the rights of women and girls. The last section, on the girl child, is particularly relevant for GAGE. The nine strategic objectives of the section on the girl child overlap with the specific capability areas that GAGE identifies as being key in adolescents’ development, and also put a strong focus on tackling negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls.