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The devil is in the detail

Why a gender- and adolescent-specific lens is essential to accelerate progress in eradicating child exploitation

Authors: Elizabeth Presler-Marshall and Nicola Jones

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which calls for gender equality, SDG 8, which calls for decent work for all and SDG 16, which calls for just and inclusive societies, all have targets to end child exploitation, including trafficking and forced marriage, child labour, modern slavery and abuse against children in all its forms. Undoubtedly, this broad framing has been critical in galvanising greater international attention around child and adolescent injustice. However, such an approach also arguably has drawbacks. A lens that amalgamates ‘all harmful practices’, ‘child labour’, and ‘ all forms of violence’ risks obscuring the specific needs of diverse groups of adolescent girls and boys, potentially leaving them behind as wider progress is made.

With this in mind, the point of departure for this report is that meeting adolescents’ age- and gender-specific needs requires a dual-pronged strategy. It is important to simultaneously highlight that the exploitation of young people, of any form, is a concern that requires urgent policy and programmatic attention; but also critical to systematically disaggregate the patterning and underlying drivers of adolescent exploitation so as to strengthen progress.Accordingly, we begin by disentangling the patterning of child labour and exploitation, noting where adolescent girls and boys are especially vulnerable to different forms of abuse, and how risks and outcomes are shifting over time. We draw on qualitative research findings from the Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) programme to spotlight the challenges that diverse groups of adolescents face and to underscore why more tailored interventions are urgently needed. The second half of the paper looks at promising entry points to tackle adolescent labour and exploitation, and we conclude with policy and practice recommendations.