International Day of the Girl Child: The Key Role of Adolescent Girls in the Development Agenda

International Day of the Girl Child: The Key Role of Adolescent Girls in the Development Agenda

11.10.2016

[This article has been published in Spanish in el País-Planeta Futuro]

The recently published Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health (2016-2030) for the first time includes adolescents as a separate group, together with women and children. At last, adolescents are being recognised as a group with unique health problems that warrant specific attention.

The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health (2016-2030) for the first time includes adolescents as a separate group

There are some 600 million adolescent girls in the world—one in every six women—and half of them are of child-bearing age (15 to 19 years). Adolescence is a stage of life characterised by experiences and changes that are vital for the individual’s cognitive, biological and social development and their transition to adulthood.

Mortality is lower among adolescents than in other age groups, and the rate decreased during the period covered by the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015). In 2012, estimated mortality rate among adolescents was 111 deaths per 100 000 population. Nevertheless, addressing the causes of death in adolescence is of the utmost importance: the leading cause of death among older adolescent girls is suicide, followed by complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth. Some 1500 to 2000 adolescent girls give birth every day. In the time it takes to read this article, a hundred teenagers may give birth around the world.

Preventing or prohibiting child marriages could be a key tactic in any strategy aimed at reducing the complications affecting adolescent girls. Child marriage rates correlate with lower rates of contraception and higher rates of fertility, pregnancy-related complications, and failure to complete schooling. It is also associated with poor prospects for an economically stable future.

Some 1500 to 2000 adolescent girls give birth every day. In the time it takes to read this article, a hundred teenagers may give birth around the world

What must be done to end the situation of vulnerability affecting these girls? Today, evidence-based intervention is a watchword in the scientific and development communities, but at the moment we have insufficient data about this age group.

Some information is available on the situation of adolescent girls aged between 15 and 19 years, mainly because girls in this cohort are considered to be of child-bearing age. However, the group of girls aged between 10 and 14 years is totally invisible in many countries owing to a complete lack of data.  

The leading cause of death among older adolescent girls is suicide, followed by complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth

Health inequalities are a key factor in the new development agenda because they provide the focus for the strategies that will be applied over the next 15 years to address the problems of the most vulnerable and excluded populations on the planet.

Adolescents are affected by the same or even greater inequities than older populations. For example, it is estimated that adolescent girls over 15 years of age living in rural areas or coming from indigenous populations are three times more likely to become pregnant than girls in the same age group in urban areas. Adolescent girls are also the group with the lowest prevalence of contraceptive use among women of child-bearing age (15 to 49 years). But which socioeconomic groups do the younger adolescents at risk of premature pregnancy belong to and where do they live? What are the repercussions of rapid urbanisation in middle-income countries with poor access to health care? These and many other questions are waiting to be answered, and we need the answers to design strategies that will address the problems affecting this group.  

The fate of these adolescent girls will be a vital factor in the success of the development agenda up to 2030

In ISGlobal, we want to contribute to the study of the extent and causes of the health inequalities affecting women, and particularly adolescent girls. Working together with the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice department, we are looking for answers to the question: What are the underlying causes of the health inequality affecting adolescent girls and other women of child-bearing age?

The fate of these adolescent girls will be a vital factor in the success of the development agenda up to 2030, if only because today’s teenagers will be the adults of 2030. Let’s give these girls the opportunity to develop their potential in adulthood. Their future hangs by a thread—a thread that, with political will and investment, could be turned into a lifeline.