World Population Day 2013 – Adolescent pregnancy focus

Preventing early pregnancy and poor reproductive outcomes among adolescents in developing countries. WHO PhotoThere are over 600 million girls in the world today, more than 500 million of them in developing countries. They are shaping humanity’s present and future. The opportunities and choices girls have during adolescence will enable them to begin adulthood as empowered, active citizens. With the right skills and opportunities, they can invest in themselves, in their families and their communities. However, pregnancy jeopardizes the rights, health, education and potential of far too many adolescent girls, robbing them of a better future.

About 16 million girls aged 15-19 give birth each year, and complications from pregnancy and child birth are the leading cause of death among girls in this age group, especially in developing countries.

Adolescent pregnancy is not just a health issue, it is a development issue. It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, lack of education, and the failure of systems and institutions to protect their rights. To bring these issues to global attention, this year’s World Population Day, which is celebrated on 11 July each year, is focusing on adolescent pregnancy.

Breaking the cycle of adolescent pregnancy requires commitment from nations, communities and individuals in both developed and developing countries to invest in adolescent girls. Governments should enact and enforce national laws that raise the age of marriage to 18 and should promote community-based efforts that support girls’ rights and prevent child marriage and its consequences.

Adolescents and youth must be provided with age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to develop the knowledge and skills they need to protect their health throughout their lives. However, education and information are not enough. Good quality reproductive health services must also be readily available in order for adolescents to make informed choices and be healthy.

At the local level, communities should provide the infrastructure to deliver reproductive health care in a youth-friendly and sensitive way.

Underlying all these efforts is the understanding that the dignity and human rights of adolescent girls must be respected, protected and fulfilled. Today, we call on governments, the international community and all stakeholders involved to take measures that enable adolescent girls to make responsible life choices and to provide the necessary support for them in cases when their rights are threatened. Every young girl, regardless of where she lives, or her economic circumstances, has the right to fulfil her human potential. Today, too many girls are denied that right. We can change that, and we must.

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Background to the Day:
The unprecedented decrease in mortality that began to accelerate in the more developed parts of the world in the nineteenth century and expanded to all the world in the twentieth century is one of the major achievements of humanity. By one estimate, life expectancy at birth increased from 30 to 67 years between 1800 and 2005, leading to a rapid growth of the population: from 1 billion in 1810 to over 7 billion in 2012.

The Population Division collaborates closely with the agencies, funds, programmes and bodies of the United Nations system in the implementation of the work programme on population and in the follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development. United Nations missions, national Government offices, United Nations offices, researchers, media representatives and the public regularly consult the Population Division regarding population estimates and projections, and information and analyses on population and development issues.

At its thirty-eighth session (E/2007/24), the Statistical Commission requested the United Nations Statistics Division and other international agencies to increase their technical assistance to national statistical offices in order to strengthen national capacity for the implementation of the 2010 World Programme on Population and Housing Censuses. In addition, the Commission requested countries to begin implementation of the revised Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses.

UNFPA works with many partners, both within and outside the United Nations system, including Governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society, faith-based organizations, religious leaders and others, to achieve its mission. To better respond to local needs, UNFPA increasingly devotes resources to country-led efforts, placing emphasis on country-focused and country-led implementation to achieve improved results, at the same time addressing mutual accountability and strengthening harmonization and alignment.

Secretary-General’s Message for 2013

As a staunch advocate of the education, health and rights of girls and an enduring believer in the power of young women to transform our world, I welcome the focus of this year’s World Population Day on adolescent pregnancy. This sensitive topic demands global attention.

Far too many of the estimated 16 million teenage girls who give birth each year never had the opportunity to plan their pregnancy. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth can cause grave disabilities, such as obstetric fistula, and are the leading cause of death for these vulnerable young women. Adolescent girls also face high levels of illness, injury and death due to unsafe abortion.

To address these problems, we must get girls into primary school and enable them to receive a good education through their adolescence. When a young girl is educated, she is more likely to marry later, delay childbearing until she is ready, have healthier children, and earn a higher income.

We must also provide all adolescents with age-appropriate, comprehensive education on sexuality. This is especially important to empowering young women to decide when and if they wish to become mothers. In addition, we must provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services that cover family planning and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. And we must guarantee the maternal health services that women need.

When we devote attention and resources to the education, health and wellbeing of adolescent girls, they will become an even greater force for positive change in society that will have an impact for generations to come. On this World Population Day, let us pledge to support adolescent girls to realize their potential and contribute to our shared future.

Ban Ki-moon

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