CAPE TOWN~The United Nations (UN) has urged governments around the world to pay special attention to the wellbeing of girls between the ages of 13 and 19.
Monday marks World Population Day and the theme for 2016 is “Investing in teenage girls”.
“The teenage years are for some girls a time of exploration‚ learning and increasing autonomy. But for many others‚ it is a time of increasing vulnerability and exclusion from rights and opportunities‚ or just plain discrimination‚’” said Babatunde Osotimehin‚ UN under-secretary-general and executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
“When a teenage girl has the power‚ the means and the information to make her own decisions in life‚ she is more likely to overcome obstacles that stand between her and a healthy‚ productive future. This will benefit her‚ her family and her community.”
According to the UN‚ 20 000 girls under the age of 18 give birth every day in developing countries.
Siyabulela Mamkeli‚ Cape Town mayoral committee member for health‚ said good health and access to services were “crucial to help young women on the road to success”.
In conjunction with other organisations‚ the city has been involved in pilot projects to provide girls who have started with their menstrual cycle with reusable sanitary towels.
“The media landscape is awash with tales of young girls missing out on significant time at school as a result of being inadequately prepared for their menstrual cycle. Some even drop out because of a lack of access to sanitary pads‚” said Mamkeli.
He also highlighted that‚ in the last 10 years‚ the rate of babies born to mothers under the age of 18 had dropped less than 4% in 2015. This is due‚ largely‚ to reproductive health education.
While women have the right to terminate a pregnancy‚ many still opt for backstreet abortions instead of utilising government services – which include the provision of birth control – for fear of being judged by their communities and even staff at their local clinic.
“The continued vulnerability of young women has been amplified… by the release of statistics indicating that young women aged between 15 and 24 have the highest HIV infection rate in the country‚ with nearly 2000 new infections being reported every week‚” said Mamkeli.
“In the last decade we have made significant progress in slowing down the spread of HIV‚ so it is of concern that young women continue to be this vulnerable to a preventable disease when education and methods for prevention are freely available.
“Without strong support to the young women and ex-plicit societal disapproval of ‘sugar daddies’ (or ‘blessers’ as they have become known in recent times)‚ gains that have been made will be lost. Unprotected transactional sex is short-sighted‚ counter-productive‚ and robs women of the opportunity to invest in their future.”
Meanwhile‚ the UNFPA’s initiative – to end child marriages‚ curb adolescent pregnancy and encourage girls to make informed decisions about their futures – is making strides.
In 2015‚ it helped more than 11-million girls between the ages of 10 and 19 gain access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.
“Leaders and communities must focus on and stand up for the human rights of the most marginalised teenage girls‚ particularly those who are poor‚ out of school‚ exploited‚ or subjected to harmful traditional practices‚ including child marriage‚” Osotimehin said.
“Marginalised girls are vulnerable to poor reproductive health and more likely to become mothers while still children themselves. They have a right to understand and control their own bodies and shape their own lives.”