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The Issue: Adolescent Girls
Adolescence is a critical time to lay the foundation for healthy transitions into adulthood. When young women and men have access to an education, they are more likely to earn an income as adults. And when adolescent girls have the right to decide when to marry and have children, they are more likely to lead healthier, productive lives as adults.
Globally, the number of young people between ages 10 and 24 is at an all time high of more than 1.8 billion. Over 90 percent of those live in developing countries, where people under the age of 25 make up as much as 47 percent of the population. The reality for many of these youth, particularly adolescent girls and young women, is troubling. Consider:
- In many developing countries, girls are forced to marry shortly after puberty, often to much older men. In some cases, child brides are as young as 7 or 8.
- According to UNAIDS, young women ages 15 to 24 in sub-Saharan Africa, the region hardest hit by the epidemic, are up to 8 times more likely than young men to be living with HIV.
- Girls spend less time in school than boys, and few girls living in poverty have a chance for an education at all. In rural communities, girls often are expected to carry out domestic duties, such as caring for younger siblings, tending to livestock and collecting firewood, which undermines their opportunities for education and employment.
- Globally, one in four girls under 17 reports experiencing sexual abuse, and the rates are significantly higher in the global South.
Given that youth are such a rapid-growing demographic in developing countries, those nations’ prospects for development depends in large part on the contributions that young women and men are able to make. In particular, adolescent girls’ education, health and overall well-being are essential to countries’ future economic and social development.
ICRW has been examining the lives of adolescents – especially girls – for more than two decades. Our work focuses on improving their well-being and identifying ways to change deeply entrenched traditional practices that prevent girls and young women from reaching their full potential. We believe that making the abilities, attitudes and options of adolescent girls and boys more equitable is one of the most effective ways to empower women. And our research shows that all aspects of young people’s lives – school, relationships, work, health and marriage – must be addressed in order to bring about lasting social change. Adolescent programs and policies require working with not only girls, but boys, parents, teachers, community members, leaders, schools and employers, too.