July 11 marked the celebration of the World Population Day which focused on a population that remains still vulnerable.
World Population Day aims to raise awareness about population issues. This year theme was "investing in teenage girls" and called for action to address the challenges faced by this vulnerable population.
In his message for the day UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said despite the gains made in reducing poverty and inequality there are still millions desperate for a better chance.
“Among those least served by previous development initiatives are girls, particularly those in their formative teenage years." Child marriage, pregnancy and leaving school are some of the challenges faced by them.
From the 700 million women alive today who were married as children, more than 1 in 3 were married before the age of 15 and half of sexual assaults are committed against girls aged 15 or younger.
They are deemed as ready for marriage, pregnancy and childbirth and for that suffer not only health issues but are forced to leave school and denied her human rights.
UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin said: “When [a teenage girl] has no say in decisions about her education, health, work or even marital status, she may never realize her full potential or become a positive force for transformation in her home, community and nation.”
“Everyone deserves the benefits of economic growth and social progress. Let us work together to ensure a life of security, dignity and opportunity for all,” he stated.
But girls have enormous potential, when valued an supported they are healthier and more likely to emerge from poverty and they contribute to the development of their communities and nations.
Here are six reasons why the UN believes investing in teenage girls is critical not only for them but for the world.
1. There are more young people today than at any other time in human history.
With 1.8 billion people aged between 10-24 today's young generation is the future. They need to be equipped with the right skills and opportunities to transform the world.
2. About nine out of ten of these young people live in less developed countries.
1.59 billion young people live in the developing world, this is where the educated and empowered could make the most difference. 20% of them live in Latin America and the Caribbean.
3. Half of these young people are facing vulnerabilities because they are girls.
Violence against women and girls is the number one human right abuse. Studies show that about 20% of women experienced sexual violence as girls and too often these crimes go unpunished.
4. In developing countries one in every three girls is married before reaching the age of 18.
One third of all girls in the developing world, excluding China, are married as children. This causes the future of 47,700 girls is derailed every day. They are more vulnerable to physical and sexual violence and are less able to advocate for themselves and their rights.
5. Child marriage is often followed by pregnancy even if they are not physically or mentally ready.
Over 20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth in developing countries every day. This makes over 7 million a year. Adolescent pregnancy is not usually deliberate and girls suffer a toll on their education and future earning potential. More so, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of deaths among girls between 15-19.
6. The solution is empowering girls
Educated girls are more likely to delay marriage and pregnancy and their future children tend to be healthier. They are able to reach their full potential benefiting themselves, their community and their country.
“Governments everywhere need to invest in teenage girls in ways that empower them to make important life decisions and equip them to one day earn a living, engage in the a airs of their communities and be on an equal footing with their male counterparts,” said Dr. Osotimehin.