Adolescent programming is nascent in UNICEF Pakistan, and its first explicit pilot programme targeting adolescents is part of a larger, regional effort. “Improving Adolescent Lives in South Asia” is a 4-year (2016-2019) intervention in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, aiming to engage adolescents, communities, service providers and policy makers to reduce child marriage, increase adolescent participation and access to non-formal education.

The project seeks to uphold the rights to health, education, protection, freedom of expression and participation, relying on a balanced integration of ‘top-down’ measures (strengthened laws and enforcement, including sanctions, related to child marriage) with ‘bottom-up’ initiatives (community dialogue, youth clubs and communication activities) to support positive changes in social norms and practices.

About 3.3 million of Pakistani children and adolescents are trapped in child labor, depriving them of their childhood, health and education and condemning them to a life of poverty. It was estimated that almost a quarter of women aged 20-49 were married before the age of 15, and 31% were married before 18 years of age.

The situation is further exacerbated by limited awareness and gender biased social norms within the context of frequent natural and human-made disasters. Government response is impeded by the significant dearth of official data relating to all forms of exploitation of children and adolescents.

As a result of the insecurity and violence, millions of Pakistanis lack access to basic services, and many have been living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) for several years.

Pakistan Map


Baseline findings substantiated UNICEF’s approach to invest initially in the spheres of identity and self-expression for adolescent boys and girls, as well as inter-generational dialogue, as a means to ultimately achieve a positive change in child marriage practices. The approach thus promotes – through the use of this kit – life-skills related to identity and self-esteem, empathy and respect, communication and expression, and coping with stress and managing emotions, including through working with social and digital media. Similarly, baseline findings highlighted the need of parents and key community influencers to learn more about adolescent psycho-physical well-being and positive parenting techniques, whereby any related C4D intervention has been designed in accordance with the identified priorities.

Moreover, UNICEF Pakistan is introducing the concept of “positive masculinities” to its child marriage programming, through explicitly engaging men and boys (fathers, brothers, husbands and influential male figures such as religious leaders) to reflect collaboratively on what defines their gender identity, identifying culturally appropriate “desirable, positive traits” and promoting same through participatory initiatives and role modelling. The planned impact evaluation (Randomized Control Trial) findings will inform the course of further engagement and possible scale-up for UNICEF’s adolescent empowerment programming.

Through a peer-to-peer approach, more than 5,000 adolescents have been engaged in activities to promote their life-skills in 2017; almost 23,000 community members (including teachers and social welfare staff) and key community influencers directly trained and/or engaged in teachers’ training, social mobilization, dialogue and actions in support of adolescents’ rights, including through the toolkit.

As part of the life-skills training, adolescent groups are encouraged and supported to develop ‘social action plans’ in order to positively engage in actions to support of their peers and communities. Activities involved sports, poetry, singing and drawing, and environmental initiatives. Through these activities, the larger community was involved to participate and support.

Moving forward, a critical area of support needed relates to monitoring frameworks/tools for this toolkit. Specifically, measuring changes on specific life-skills modules such as identity and self-esteem, empathy and respect, communication and expression, dealing with stress and managing emotions is needed. Unpacking each skill into measurable blocks is critical.