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Friday, January 19, 2018

Investing in Teenage Girls - Key to Development

Monday, 11 July 2016 12:13
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"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" Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA, message on World Population Day 2016. 

The stage of adolescence is a very delicate transitional period of development between Childhood and Adulthood, representing the period during which a person is biologically an adult but emotionally yet to mature. It is during this period an individual undergoes enormous physical and psychological changes. In addition, the adolescent also experience changes in social expectations and perceptions. Physical growth and development are accomplished by sexual maturation, often leading to intimate relationships.

Promoting healthy practices during adolescence, and taking steps to better protect young people from health risks are critical for the prevention of health problems in adulthood, and for the societies future health and welfare. As per WHO report as on May'2016, around 1 in every 6 person in the world is an adolescent i.e, 1.2 billion people are aged between 10-19 years. An estimated 1.3 adolescents million died in 2015, mostly from preventable or treatable causes such as HIV, mental health, violence, alcohol and drugs, unintentional injuries, malnutrition and obesity, anaemia, tobacco use, diarrhoea, lower respiratory tract infections and meningitis are some major cause of death among adolescents. Complications linking to pregnancy and childbirth are the second cause of death among adolescent girls between 15-19 year.  

Of all the adolescent health issues, Why is the world focusing only on Teenage/Adolescent Girls this year? Why do we need to invest in Teenage Girls? Did you know that investing in adolescent girls helps break the Poverty Cycle?  Globally, there are 49 Births per 1000 girls aged 15 to 19 per year. India has almost 105 million adolescent girls. There are more adolescents in India today than before. According to the world's latest development report card i.e, the Millennium Development Report 2013, the world is still short of meeting targets in Reducing Child and Maternal Mortality. Therefore, reducing adolescent pregnancy and child marriage are very important and crucial not just for health issue but for social and mental development of a society. 

Many teenage girls are considered by their communities or parents to be ready for marriage and motherhood and are married off early to handle parental responsibility. Complications from pregnancy and child birth continue to be the leading cause of death among adolescent girls between 15-19 years. Lack of access even to the basic information regarding their Health, Reproductive/Sexual Rights and Human Rights leaves them more vulnerable to various illness, injury and exploitation. As such adolescent girls are more prone to sexual exploitation resulting in mental instability, practice of unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted infections. Gender inequality, forced marriage, lack of proper education, neglected hygienic needs of girls, sexual violence and coercion are the main challenges faced among marginalized girls, such as those living in poverty or remote areas. 

Pregnancy before a girl is physically, developmentally and socially ready jeopardizes her right to a safe, successful transition into adulthood. When a girl becomes pregnant, her life changes radically. Her education may end and her job prospects diminish. She becomes more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion, and her health often suffers. Adolescent pregnancy is often not the result of a deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices. With the growth in our population and adolescent girls entering to their reproductive years, it is very important to call attention towards the primary part of the reproductive health. Preventing teen pregnancy should be made top issue for our policy makers and stake holders in our society. 

We need to make an effort to identify and reach the most vulnerable girls through programmes that will suit them according to their unique and specific circumstances.  Married girls need specially targeted strategies that provide access to education, life skills, health including Sexual Reproductive Health and HIV prevention, and other participation opportunities. Maternal health programmes need to be reoriented with dedicated outreach for the youngest, first-time mothers to use antenatal, essential and emergency obstetric care, and post-delivery services. The reproductive rights of young people should be a top priority and adolescent-friendly health services, including contraceptives and comprehensive sexuality information should be made easily; readily available to enable them to make informed decisions about their own lives. 

Basing on the theme "Investing in Teenage Girls" by the United Nations Population Fund for the Year 2016. Since many of this challenges are faced by a girl during their adolescent stage. The well-being of adolescent girls is the key to eliminating poverty, achieving social justice, stabilizing the population, and preventing foreseeable humanitarian crises. Reducing adolescent pregnancy is about empowering girls. Educated and healthy girls stay in school longer, marry later, delay childbearing, have healthier children, develop life skills, and earn higher incomes. They can help lift themselves and their present and future families out of poverty.  When girls have a choice, they marry later.  When we invest in teenage girls, a girl will become an active citizen in her community. She will become a mother when she is ready and invest in her future children's health and education. She will be able to contribute fully to her society and break the cycle of poverty. When investments in girls are made, everyone benefits: their families, communities, and most importantly, the girls themselves. Investing in girls, developing their social and economic assets means healthier families and higher levels of gender equality. Investment in adolescent girls is an investment in development for everyone. When teenage girls are empowered, when they know about their rights and are given the tools to succeed, they become agents of positive change in their communities. This in turn makes for stronger societies and more vibrant economies. Let's all aim to end child marriage, curb adolescent pregnancy, and to empower girls to make informed choices about their health and lives. 

It may be noted here that, in 1989, the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme recommended that 11th July be observed by the International community as World Population Day, a day to focus attention on the urgency and importance of Population Issues . What makes the campaign unique is that it focuses on the whole woman-not just her health needs, or her educational needs, or her rights.  It will probably never be easy to be a teenage girl, no matter where in the world she lives. But as a global community, we can help make it easier by realizing that the face of the future is the face of a teenage girl and when we invest in every aspect of her, we are building a better future for all of us. Let's let girls be girls.

Ville Rhetso


Family Planning Association of India

Nagaland Branch- Kohima


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