There are more than 600 million young and adolescent girls in the developing world. Yet despite playing a vital role in producing, raising and educating the next generation of humans and being denied their independence in many societies around the world, girls are too often forgotten by development policy. Under 2% of ODA is devoted to protecting enabling girls to develop safely and healthily. The neglect that the girls of the developing world suffer stands to have not only disastrous consequences on their personal wellbeing, but also on the society and economy in their countries. It is therefore essential that politicians understand this and seek to redress the balance in their government’s ODA budget.
According to a 2009 report by the Center for Global Development, Population Council and the International Centre for Research on Women, one person in 8 of global population is a girl or young woman age 10–24. Young people are the fastest growing segment of the population in developing countries, and their size will peak over the next 10 years. Simply because of their numbers, adolescent girls aged 10–19 and young women aged 20–24 merit the attention of policy and decision makers. A sixth of the world’s young people live on less than $2 a day, including 12 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa who live on less than $1 a day. Poor adolescent girls and young women do not enjoy the basic human rights, cannot inherit land, are forced into early marriages and pregnancies, and are subject to various forms of gender based violence, including female genital mutilation.
Few poor girls have an opportunity for education. In sub-Saharan Africa only 17% of girls enrol in secondary school. Early marriage is most common in Sub-Saharan Africa, where in 15 countries almost half of all girls are married before age 18. Early pregnancy is the major cause for girls dropping out of school. Adolescent girls are up to 5 times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy than women in their 20s, and their babies are also at higher risk of dying. The highest fertility rates among adolescents are in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 90% of maternal deaths occur. Early childbearing is closely correlated with poverty. Girls from poor households are 3 times more likely than better-off girls to give birth during adolescence, and they bear twice as many children, as they often lack access to contraception. Around 59% of HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa—the worst affected region in the world—are women, and 75% of infected youth are girls aged 15–24.
As the world seeks to fight poverty and respect fundamental human rights, adolescent girls and young women remain nearly invisible to those in positions of power — and yet it is only through major and sustained improvements in their condition that Sub-Saharan African countries will reach the MDGs.
Adolescent girls in Sub-Saharan Africa are one of the most neglected target groups for development activities. But they bear a high potential of speeding up the achievement of MDGs, in particular MDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, if consistent investments are made to ensure their human rights, improve their social and economic status, ensure school enrolment and completion, improve their sexual and reproductive health and rights through reducing early/forced marriage and childbearing, sexuality education and access to contraception including condoms to protect themselves against HIV & AIDS.
In recent years, key European donors such as DFID, the European Union and the French Development Agency have started to invest in innovative projects focusing on adolescent girls. But these efforts alone are not nearly sufficient for addressing a challenge of this scale. It is essential that the international community starts recognising the plight of young and adolescent girls as a priority for their ODA budget.
The Girl Effect
The Coalition for Adolescent Girls
The International Center for Research on Women
The Girl Hub