Statement of the UNFPA Executive Director
on the launch of The State of World Population 2013
Welcome to the launch of UNFPA’s The State of World Population 2013, entitled “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy.”
The aim of UNFPA’s State of World Population 2013 is to provoke a new way of thinking about and tackling adolescent pregnancy and to encourage a shift away from interventions targeted at girls towards broad-based approaches that build girls’ human capital, protect girls’ rights and empower them to make decisions.
Every day in developing countries, 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth, adding up to 7.3 million a year. If you include all pregnancies, not just births, the number is much higher.
Each pregnancy brings great risks to a girl.
It endangers her health.
It takes a psychological toll.
Very often it forces her to leave school.
And a girl without an education is a girl who lacks the skills to find a job and build a future for herself and her family and to contribute to her nation’s development.
The economic impact of adolescent pregnancy can be enormous. In a large economy like China, the lifetime opportunity cost related to adolescent pregnancy equals an estimated 1 per cent of annual GDP, or $124 billion [GDP, PPP, World Bank data]. Even in a smaller economy, like that of Uganda, the costs can amount to as much as 30 per cent of GDP—or about $15 billion.
The impact of a pregnancy can be great on any adolescent, but especially on a girl who is 14 or younger. Each year, 2 million girls 14 or younger give birth.
Very young girls are especially vulnerable to exploitation, child marriage, and sexual coercion and violence.
A pregnancy endangers them physically and developmentally.
Girls who are pregnant so young are at twice the risk of death and disability than older girls and women.
A girl who is pregnant at 14 or earlier is a girl whose rights have been violated, whose future has been forever derailed.
Pregnancy harms the girl in many ways. But it also harms her household, her community, her country and even the economy.
The tendency in many parts of the world is to blame the girl for becoming pregnant.
And when a girl’s behaviour is erroneously seen as the problem, changing her behaviour may be wrongly seen as the sole solution.
The reality is that pregnancy often has less to do with girls’ personal behaviour and more to do with the behaviour of their families, communities and governments.
UNFPA’s State of World Population makes the case that adolescent pregnancy should not be seen only as the result of recklessness or a deliberate choice but rather that of an absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond a girl’s control.
Throughout the world, adolescent pregnancies are more common among the poor, the uneducated, the rural.
And they occur more frequently among:
• girls who are marginalized,
• girls who have no access to information and services,
• girls who have little say in decisions affecting their lives,
• girls whose realities and futures are determined by others.
Adolescent pregnancy is a manifestation of inequity, poverty, and a belief that somehow girls deserve less in life than boys. Or that girls are not entitled to enjoy basic human rights to education, to health, to live free from fear of violence and discrimination.
Adolescent pregnancy equals powerlessness.
One of the worst forms of powerlessness is child marriage. UNFPA’s State of World Population shows that nine of 10 pregnancies to girls under 18 occur within marriage. Every day, 39,000 girls are married, in violation of their basic human rights. One in nine is married before 15.
Girls who have no say about whether, to whom and when they marry likely have no say about whether or when to begin childbearing.
As long as families, communities and governments tolerate child marriage, motherhood in childhood will remain an everyday occurrence in developing countries, and girls’ basic human rights will continue to be violated.
What must we do to rise to the challenge of adolescent pregnancy and ensure girls’ safe, healthy and affirming transitions from childhood to adulthood?
UNFPA’s State of World Population calls for actions that empower girls, uphold their basic human rights, and put them on an equal footing with boys.
A priority is education.
Enabling girls to attend and remain in school is critical.
The UNFPA report shows that girls who remain in school longer are less likely to become pregnant.
Education prepares girls for future jobs and livelihoods, raises their self-esteem and status, and gives them more say in decisions affecting their lives.
Education also reduces the likelihood of child marriage and delays childbearing.
It is also critically important to enact laws against child marriage and enforce those on the books.
We must protect adolescents’ rights to comprehensive sexuality education and tear down obstacles to information and services that can help them avoid pregnancy.
We must socialize boys differently so they see girls as equal human beings who deserve the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Help boys—and men—become part of the solution.
And girls who are pregnant need our support, not stigma. They need our help to stay in school while they are pregnant and resume their education after they give birth.
Much of what we know applies mainly to girls 15 and older. We know too little about the challenges and extreme vulnerabilities of girls 14 or younger. We must fill this void in our knowledge and find new ways to protect very young adolescents from exploitation, subjugation, abuse—and pregnancy.
Girls 10 to 14 are the most powerless and in need of support.
For these very young girls, special actions should be taken early, during this critical stage of their development, to build their agency and protect their rights.
But regardless of the age, we must confront child marriage, illiteracy and poverty and the other underlying forces that drive adolescent pregnancy.
Building a gender-equitable society in which girls are empowered, educated, healthy and protected from child marriage, live in dignity and security and are able to make decisions about their futures and exercise their rights is essential.
In my country, we have a saying that you cannot run on one leg.
That’s a lesson for every country: by empowering girls, protecting their rights and helping them prevent pregnancy, we can make it possible for girls to realize their potential, to become equal partners in development. And with girls and boys on an equal footing, all our countries may run with both legs.
UNFPA strives to uphold every girl’s right to grow up unhindered by gender inequality and discrimination, violence, child marriage, and pregnancy so they may make a safe, healthy and successful transition from adolescence into adulthood.
Childhood must never be derailed by motherhood.
Innovating for Girls’ Education
Statement by the UNFPA Executive Director on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October 2013
More girls are in school today than ever before. However, too many girls, especially the most marginalized, have never seen the inside of a classroom, or they go to school only sporadically, never getting the opportunity to acquire the skills they need to reach their full potential. For those in school, challenges like teacher shortages abound, making learning difficult even for the most motivated student.
While the gender gap in primary school enrolment has narrowed, girls are still more likely to be out of school than boys among primary- and lower-secondary-age groups. Girls are also less likely to complete primary and enrol in secondary schools, and have lower literacy rates than boys.
Yet, we know that the benefits of girls’ education, especially secondary education, are far-reaching: delayed marriage and childbirth, fewer maternal and infant deaths, lower fertility rates, lower risk of HIV infection, and increased economic and political participation.
“Innovating for girls’ education”, the theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, which we celebrate today, focuses on new approaches to realizing these benefits.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is innovating for girls. New school curricula, including for age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education, are helping transform gender norms and enabling girls to fulfil their human rights, including their basic rights to education and health. Through sexuality education, girls and boys are being equipped with the critical thinking and decision-making skills they need as they come of age, start relationships, and prepare for the future.
A year ago today, UNFPA launched its Adolescent Girls Initiative to deliver more systematic and integrated programmes at scale in support of married and unmarried girls aged 10-19 years, who are at risk of school dropout, child marriage, and adolescent pregnancy.
This initiative is building girl-centred programmes that provide safe spaces to girls in a number of countries, including Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone and Zambia. These programmes help girls stay in school, delay marriage and pregnancy, engage actively in their communities, gain friends and social support, and access information and services, including sexual and reproductive health services.
Girls’ education must be part of a comprehensive approach that includes health, economic and political empowerment, and protection from violence.
Investing in girls and enabling them to exercise their right to make informed choices about their health, their bodies and their future is one of the surest ways to transform individual lives, strengthen families and communities, and ensure equitable, sustainable development for all.
If a girl is educated, healthy, safe and skilled, she will invest in herself and her present and future family, charting a new course for our common future.
Tomorrow is today aged 10, and it’s a girl. Change her life, change the world.