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International Day of the Girl: The Cost of Our Inaction

International Day of the Girl: The Cost of Our Inaction

[This post has been published in Spanish in Planeta Futuro-El País]

Nine out of ten adolescents live in the developing world

There are 1.2 billion people aged between 10 and 19 years in the world today. These young people make up 8% of the world population and current projections forecast a 5% increase in this proportion by 2030. Despite the importance of this group, however, it was not until 2015 that adolescents were included in the development agenda as a distinct grouping with particular rights and needs.

Nine out of ten adolescents live in the developing world. Because of its size and demographic importance, this subgroup will be crucial in the work undertaken to meet the goals defined by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In fact, one of the best indicators of the success and sustainability of that agenda will be the living conditions achieved by these future adults—the children and adolescents of today—by the target date of 2030.

En el caso

 Source: Global Health Estimates (GHE). World Health Organization (WHO), 2016.

In the case of girl children and adolescents, approximately half of that population group, the visibility afforded by the agenda has had some positive effects. One of the most important of these has been the greater availability of information about their situation. Strange as it might seem in this age of interconnection and big data, the lack of basic data still presents one of the greatest obstacles to resolving the problems of this population group, particularly in the case of younger adolescents aged between 10 and 14 years.

The latest information on the situation of girl children and young adolescents, published in recent months, has opened the way to a better understanding of the situation of this population group in the developing world:

  • It is estimated that 780,000 young adolescent girls aged between 10 and 14 years gave birth in 2016 in developing regions: 58% of these births took place in Africa, 28% in Asia and 14% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • The proportion of adolescent girls married before age 15 varies by country—from less than 1% to 24%—and also by region, area of residence and income level.
  • Between 3% and 23% of girls between 13 and 17 years of age report experience of sexual violence in the past year. 

It is estimated that 780,000 young adolescent girls aged between 10 and 14 years gave birth in 2016

These findings demonstrate that issues once considered only to affect older adolescents and young adults, are already affecting this younger group significantly. This means that earlier interventions are needed, especially actions designed to provide access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, which currently do not target this group. Furthermore, complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 years, with suicide in second place.

Complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 years

Finally, from the point of view of inequality—one of the cross-cutting priorities of the 2030 Agenda—adolescents are a particularly vulnerable subset of the group of women of child-bearing age (15-49 years). In general, they have less access to health opportunities (lower coverage rates than older women in terms of access to family planning and maternal health care) and it has also been shown that existing opportunities are less well distributed in that age group.

What are the causes of this inequality? In sub-Saharan Africa, child marriage is the factor with the greatest impact on inequality of access to reproductive education and health opportunities (access to contraception, school attendance, and postponing child bearing) among girls aged between 15 and 19 years;  this in a region where 90% of adolescent mothers are married and 3 out of every 10 teenagers become mothers at a young age.

Source: Inequalities in Women’s and Girls’ Health Opportunities and Outcomes. A Report from Sub-Saharan Africa

The cost of our inaction is still being paid by girls living in the developing world

There is an urgent need to improve overall coverage and ensure equitable distribution of health opportunities, to work towards the universalisation of health care services and to focus on the current situation and needs of girl children and adolescents in other areas outside the health sector. However, in 2017, this is still a marginal issue for donor and recipient countries and other development actors when deciding how to allocate funds and what intervention strategies are needed. In the meantime, the cost of our inaction is still being paid by girls living in the developing world



Nota: Las personas que integran ISGlobal persiguen ideas innovadoras con total independencia. Las opiniones expresadas en este blog son, por tanto, a título personal y no necesariamente reflejan el posicionamiento institucional.

Anna Lucas

Coordinator of the Maternal, Child and Reproductive Health Initiative

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