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Adolescents and girls

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Services for adolescents and girls are particularly important given the risk factors that affect many young women in communities across regions, such as lower levels of secondary education, restricted mobility, lack of identification documents, limited access to protective services, social isolation and limited support networks and relationships. These factors make girls more vulnerable to specific forms of abuse (e.g. sexual coercion and assault; forced marriage; sexual exploitation and trafficking).

In addition to accommodating girls and young women who accompany their mothers seeking support, shelters should provide dedicated services to adolescents and girls who have experienced abuse or are at-risk of violence. Such explicit programming is critical to address the distinct needs and circumstances of young survivors, who often face additional barriers to help-seeking related to their age and dependency on adults (who may also be the perpetrators of abuse) for financial support and protection.

Key considerations when delivering services for adolescents include:

  • Services should be informed by young women, as the needs perceived by service providers and relevant for women seeking assistance may not be the same as the priorities identified by adolescents. For example, education, family relations, reproductive health and other concerns may be equally important to address alongside the violence.
  • Collaboration between shelters, other advocates/ professional social workers, relevant child protection agencies, teachers, and youth service organizations are critical when working with adolescents. This is particularly important to ensure that shelters are able to legally accommodate and provide protection to girls considered minors, who may be otherwise returned to their families/communities and re-exposed to the perpetrator or abusive environment. See the Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative for an example of a partnership with child protection officers to accommodate girls at risk of forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
  • Shelter advocates should be familiar with their legal responsibilities related to mandatory reporting and confidentiality laws and inform adolescents and girls of their obligations at the start of any intervention (ie. when seeking consent for any service provided), to ensure they understand how information will be handled before they disclose any experience of abuse. Even where staff are required to report abuse to child protection or other authorities, shelters should make available information on support resources for young survivors, so they may access appropriate services as needed.
  • Specific consent policies (e.g. for girls over 12) should be developed to provide services to young women who seek support, with language and related protocols for obtaining consent tailored as needed to reflect the age and development stage of the girl.
  • Where possible and appropriate (i.e. unless the community or family member is the perpetrator), community and family engagement should be sought and embedded into support services. In many areas, girls may have to return to their families, and shelter engagement with local authorities and families (i.e. related to awareness raising and follow-up support) is critical to provide protection and ensure girls’ ongoing safety once they are reintegrated back to their communities. See for example, the work of Casa Nova in Honduras. 
  • To facilitate a young girl’s transition back into the community, shelter outreach should address the underlying causes of violence related to gender inequality and discrimination, as well as reducing stigma for survivors and promoting awareness of healthy relationships. Efforts should particularly engage family members, community leaders and young men.
  • Programmes with adolescents may involve non-residential services, for young women who are seeking support, but are not able or choose not to leave their homes. Such services are particularly relevant in low-resource settings, where it may not feasible to provide specific accommodation for adolescents. Community-based services for adolescents should be equally informed and guided by their expressed needs, despite their young age or legal status as minors. This will ensure interventions effectively engage adolescents and support their empowerment and strengths to overcome the abuse.
  • Shelters for minors should plan for adequate financial support to sustain programmes, which may have higher operating costs to meet recurring basic needs of its residents (e.g. food, clothing and personal hygiene, education, etc.), since girls may not be eligible to receive social welfare or government financial support, where available (Goll and Schaak, 2012; Orozco, 2012; Teen Dating Violence Technical Assistance Center, 2008).



In Liberia, dedicated shelters for girl survivors have been established in the aftermath of the conflict. The Liberia Crisis Center for Abused Women and Children, established in 2003, supports approximately 25 girls between 14 and 24 years of age. Targeting girls with greater vulnerability, the safe home accommodates ex-combatants, trafficking survivors or girls exploited for commercial sex work who are school drop-outs or have only primary-level education. Girls are transported to the undisclosed shelter location using unmarked vehicles to ensure their security and commit to stay there for 9 months, or the length of the school year. Housing is accompanied by support groups, recreation/ sports, economic livelihood skills training, employment and literacy support. Long-term housing assistance and housing subsidies are provided where possible, as well as emergency cash assistance for girls to escape abuse and witness protection assistance while seeking emergency shelter. To expand access to services for young survivors given the limited space within its shelter, the Liberia Crisis Center has also supported a network of women in 35 community-based alert teams to provide immediate counseling support and referrals to survivors in rural areas. for(Goll and Schaak, 2012)

In Zimbabwe, The Girl Child Network has established the Chitsoso Girls Empowerment Village. See the case study.

In Tanzania, the non-profit organization KIWOHEDE: Kiota Women Health and Development Organization provides child sexual abuse survivors and trafficking victims with shelter, physical and mental health services, vocational training and referrals to legal aid. The organization has reached nearly 40,000 girls as of 2010 through the operation of its 22 centres in 10 districts.


In Their Shoes: Teens and Dating Violence (Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence, 2010). This manual is a training tool for teachers, counselors, youth group leaders, law enforcement, or parents who work with teens, based on the context in the United States. Participants learn about dating violence through simulated scenarios involving teen characters that highlight issues related to sexting, pregnancy, homophobia and stalking, as well as teen experiences seeking support from their partners, family, friends and authorties. Available by purchase in English.

A Young People’s Toolkit On Issues Connected To Gender-Based Violence: Raising Awareness On Roles & Responsibilities In Relationships (Carter, Hilton, Kunthea, Mostafa, Solinda, and Vibol for the German Technical Cooperation and the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2010). This toolkit is a resource for facilitators and practitioners working with young people aged 15-25. The toolkit includes resources and activities designed to raise awareness amongst young people on issues related to gender-based violence, specifically: child rights; culture, gender inequalities; sexual relationships, sexual violence and exploitation; family relationships and domestic violence; alcohol and drug use. Each chapter covers a different topic, and includes an explanation of the subject along with step-by-step guidance for facilitating group activities with young people. The manual contains guidance for 56 activities and is accompanied by audio-visual materials (posters, CDs, DVDs). Available in English and Khmer.

Runaway and Homeless Youth and Relationship Violence Toolkit (National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program of Health and Human Services, 2010). This toolkit was developed by and for advocates for runaway and homeless youth, and domestic violence and sexual assault survivors to help programmes create partnerships, improve services and prevention strategies for working with youth at risk, based on the context in the United States. Available in English.

Empowering Young Women to Lead Change: A Training Manual (World YWCA with support from UNFPA, 2006). This training manual is for young women around the world to develop awareness, facilitation and advocacy skills on key issues. The issues identified in the manual include: HIV and AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, self esteem and body image, violence against women, human rights, economic justice and peace. The manual includes 7 workshop activities and facilitation notes specifically focused on violence against women. Available in English, French and Spanish.

Enabling Adolescents to Build Life Skills Part I: Understanding Concepts, Evolving Strategies, and Part II: Needs Assessment, Conceptual Framework (Mridula Seth for UNFPA). This assessment tool, by, is for programme staff and researchers working with adolescents. The resource is comprised of two parts: the first provides an overview of the various skills needed for young people to enhance their life skills, and the second section provides guidance on conducting a needs assessment for adolescents with a focus on reproductive health. Available in English.

Youth Relationships Manual: A Group Approach with Adolescents for the Prevention of Woman Abuse and the Promotion of Healthy Relationships (Wolfe, Wekerle, Gough, et al., 1996). This manual, by, is for facilitators working with adolescents aged 14-17 who have experienced family violence. The manual curriculum comprises 18 sessions which provides information, skills-building exercises and community activities related to communication, conflict resolution, positive behaviors for dating and interpersonal interaction, as well as practice applying the skills. The sessions cover power and violence in relationships, date rape, sexism, the media and sexism, and strategies to confront sexism and violence against women. The manual includes exercises, handout reproductions, forms, and group building techniques. Available for purchase in English.

See additional tools for engaging Adolescents/Youth.