Early adolescence marks a critical time of development for young people including intense physical, hormonal, cognitive, and social changes, and the formation of one's identity. Very young adolescents (VYAs), those between the ages of 10 and 14, are acquiring information, developing attitudes, and experimenting with behaviors that will affect their present and future well-being. Both boys and girls are internalizing cultural messages of what it means to be a man or a woman, and how they process these messages will affect their behaviors and health outcomes for decades to come. Yet, at a time when correct and gender equitable information is so important, studies show that most VYAs lack the knowledge and skills to reduce associated risks of puberty including unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
VYAs face additional unique challenges such as early marriage, the increased danger of pregnancy, and high vulnerability to sexual violence and coercion. Programs that provide VYAs with information and build gender awareness and skills in areas such as self-advocacy, while concurrently addressing adults and community institutions, can be a highly effective approach to changing and sustaining health-related behaviors. Most VYAs are not yet sexually active and have not solidified harmful behaviors or norms; thus, intervening with youth at this stage provides a window of opportunity not available later on. Despite the unique challenges and opportunities VYAs face, most research and programs addressing youth reproductive health and HIV issues are geared toward older adolescents (ages 15 to 19) or young adults (ages 20 to 24). As a result, VYA’s remain a neglected and forgotten population in much of the programming on reproductive health.
“The work in this supplement fills these important gaps in the literature. The Global Early Adolescent Study focuses on developmental issues of younger adolescents, age 10 to 14 years, in 15 different high-, middle-, and low-income countries across the world. Equally importantly, this study focuses on adolescents within low-income settings in each of these countries, to capture relatively unexplored contexts for gender identity development. As some of the first work to emerge from this important study of early adolescence, the papers in this supplement offer a fascinating look into key aspects of development during the intensification of gender socialization and gender roles that occurs around puberty. This study is being undertaken in two phases, with the first designed as an exploratory qualitative examination of how gender is experienced across the various settings, identifying cross-cutting themes, and the second phase intended to incorporate a longitudinal quantitative design. (2017)”
Additional information about the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS) can be found at https://www.geastudy.org/
This Save the Children Resource guide “is a decision-making tool to help those designing and adapting SRH and gender programming for VYAs. As the focus on VYAs grows and programming for this critical age group expands, it is important to learn from what has already been done. Future programs must endeavor to build on the existing evidence in order to catalyze further innovation and learning, rather than repetition or duplication. To achieve that goal, this guide was developed as an evidence-informed resource based on the most current evidence and experience on VYA SRH and gender programming.” (2019)
The Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs of Very Young Adolescents Aged 10–14 in Developing Countries: What Does the Evidence Show?
“This [Guttmacher] report draws on analyses of national survey data and literature review results to provide an overview of the evidence on key aspects of sexual and reproductive health among very young adolescents aged 10–14 living in developing regions. (2017)”
This toolkit from K4H “is for program managers, educators, health workers, advocates, researchers and policy makers committed to making a difference in the lives of very young adolescents (girls and boys between the ages of 10-14). The toolkit offers resources which address the unique developmental, cognitive, and social opportunities and challenges facing this age group. It provides links to examples of successful programs, research results, curricula, advocacy materials and other resources useful for working with VYAs. (2018)”
This USAID document is the culmination of a five-day meeting that took place in June 2010 to understand programming and research needs for very young adolescents. (2010)
Growing up GREAT! (GUG!) is a multi-level intervention for very young adolescents (VYAs), their parents and caregivers and other influential community members through the USAID-funded Passages Project. It uses an ecological approach to provide information and address social and gender norms related to reproductive health and wellbeing at each of these levels, with the goal of improving both in-school 3 and out-of-school VYAs’ sexual and reproductive health outcomes in later adolescence. Specifically, GUG! aims to increase: 1. VYAs’ knowledge of puberty and reproductive development 2. VYAs’ and parents’ gender-equitable behaviors 3. Use of family planning and other reproductive health services among VYAs as they age into older adolescence. This report presents findings from baseline data collection. (2018)
This article makes the case for investing in very young adolescents (VYAs) through a detailed description of the specific challenges this age group faces, a review of existing evidence about the efficacy of programming efforts focused on VYAs (2014).
Investing When it Counts: Reviewing the Evidence and Charting a Course of Research and Action for Very Young Adolescents
This report reviews the state of the knowledge on the situation and needs of very young adolescents (VYAs) globally, the key social and contextual influences in their lives, the impact of programs working with VYAs, and develops recommendations for further research and programming with this especially vulnerable group (2016).
In 2009, Save the Children International Nepal developed the CHOICES intervention, which targeted very young adolescents (VYAs) with the goal of changing gender norms, attitudes, and behaviors and increasing support for more egalitarian relationships between boys and girls. Evaluation results indicated significant improvements for those participating, leading to the development of a further curriculum, PROMISES, which began implementation in 2011. In contract to CHOICES, PROMISES targeted the general community where CHOICES was implemented with the goal of influencing the broader environment. The positive impact of both programs led to the development of VOICES, an approach that uses the voices of mothers and fathers through testimonials to influence change in other parents in the community. Information on each of the pieces of this integrated program can be found through the links below.
Evaluation of Choices
CHOICES curriculum (English)
PROMISES curriculum (English)
Advancing Promising Program and Research/ Evaluation Practices for Evidence-based Programs Reaching Very Young Adolescents: A Review of the Literature
This paper reviews and describes research practices and program interventions addressing the reproductive health needs of VYAs and identifies promising program components and research/evaluation practices (2010).