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Stand up for and invest in teenage girls

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Girlhood not motherhood,, investing in teenage girls, world population day 2016‘When teenage girls are empowered they become agents of positive change in their communities’.

In 1989, the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recommended that 11 July be observed by the international community as World Population Day.

It is a day to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues and to reaffirm the human right to plan for a family. And the UNDP organises and supports activities, events and information to help make this right a reality throughout the world.

This year’s theme is ‘Investing in teenage girls’.

Teenage girls around the world face enormous challenges.

Many are considered by their communities or parents to be ready for marriage and motherhood.

Many are forced from school, damaging their future prospects.

Even among girls who stay in school, access to basic information about their health, human rights and reproductive rights can be hard to come by, leaving them vulnerable to illness, injury and exploitation.

These challenges are exacerbated among marginalised girls, such as members of ethnic minorities or those living in poverty or remote areas.

Yet when teenage girls are empowered, when they know about their rights and when they are given the tools to succeed, they become agents of positive change in their communities.

In a speech for World Population Day 2016, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and United Nations Population Fund’s executive director, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, said: “The teenage years are for some girls a time of exploration, learning and increasing autonomy.

“But for many others, it is a time of increasing vulnerability and exclusion from rights and opportunities, or just plain discrimination.

“When a teenage girl has the power, the means and the information to make her own decisions in life, she is more likely to overcome obstacles that stand between her and a healthy, productive future. This will benefit her, her family and her community.

“When she has no say in decisions about her education, health, work or even marital status, she may never realise her full potential or become a positive force for transformation in her home, community and nation.

“In some parts of the world, a girl who reaches puberty is deemed by her family or community as ready for marriage, pregnancy and childbirth. She may be married off and forced to leave school. She may suffer a debilitating condition, such as fistula, from delivering a child before her body is ready for it. She may be denied her human rights.

“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 affairs of their communities and be on an equal footing with their male counterparts.

“Investments are needed to protect their health, including their sexual and reproductive health, to enable them to receive a quality education and to expand economic opportunities, including those for decent work.

“A teenage girl whose rights are respected and who is able to realise her full potential is a girl who is more likely to contribute to the economic and social progress of her community and nation.”

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) runs programmes aiming to end child marriage, curb adolescent pregnancy, and to empower girls to make informed choices about their health and lives – and in 2015 alone, UNFPA programmes helped 11.2 million girls between the ages of 10 and 19 gain access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.

At the end of last year, for example, UNFPA published ‘Girlhood, Not Motherhood. Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy‘ which presented some strategic thinking and reviewed the best available evidence on effective strategies and interventions which could empower girls and reduce their vulnerability to adolescent pregnancy.

Drawing from evaluated evidence, its aim is to provide guidance on how to implement effective programmes that operate at multiple levels and with multiple stakeholders, including and most importantly, with the adolescent girl.

“Leaders and communities must focus on and stand up for the human rights of the most marginalised teenage girls, particularly those who are poor, out of school, exploited, or subjected to harmful traditional practices, including child marriage,” Babatunde Osotimehin said.

“Marginalised girls are vulnerable to poor reproductive health and more likely to become mothers while still children themselves.

“They have a right to understand and control their own bodies and shape their own lives.”

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