“She is the world’s most powerful force for change. An adolescent girl stands at the doorway of adulthood. If she stays in school, remains healthy, and gains skills, she will marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and earn an income that she’ll invest back into her family.”—The Coalition for Adolescent Girls
One out of every eight people is a girl or young woman between the ages of 10 and 24. Approximately 600 million adolescent girls live in the developing world. Adolescent girls are among the most vulnerable people in the world; they face multiple inequalities and experience negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Every year 3 million girls are at risk of female genital cutting in Africa. Every day more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married. Adolescent females are disproportionally affected by the HIV epidemic; females make up more than 60% of all young people living with HIV. Young women face high rates of early and unintended pregnancy, and childbirth-related complications are the number one cause of death among adolescent girls ages 15–19. Adolescent girls are also less likely to be educated and more likely to be poor than boys of the same age.
During adolescence, health and social behaviors are established for life; the decisions a girl makes during this period and the situations she faces will have long-term consequences for her sexual and reproductive health, and the overall health of her future children and family. Adolescent girls in developing countries who receive seven or more years of education marry on average four years later than their less-educated peers and have 2.2 fewer children. One additional year of primary education increases a girl’s eventual income by between 10 and 20 percent; one additional year of secondary school raises this percentage to between 15 and 25. When women and girls earn an income, they reinvest 90% into their families compared to men who on average only reinvest 30-40%.
“Adolescent girls hold the key to a world without poverty.” —UNFPA
An investment in adolescent girls is an investment in our future. With the right skills and opportunities, girls are able to invest in themselves now and in their families later. When girls are able to stay in school, delay marriage, postpone pregnancy and reach their full potential, they and their families are better educated and healthier. By intervening to counter risks that exist and by promoting positive relationships and behaviors for girls, we are investing in the women and leaders of our future.
There are many organizations and campaigns committed to increasing investments in adolescent girls including:
To learn more about the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescent girls, visit our topic page.