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Kathy Calvin Headshot

We Can't Ignore Adolescent Reproductive Health

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Every day, approximately 191 girls die as a result of complications from pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, these complications are a leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19 in low- and middle-income countries.

Nine out of 10 births for girls under age 18 occur within marriage. Tragically, this is because approximately 14 million girls a year are subject to forced or early marriage and are often denied the rights and tools to plan their families.

This is a stain on the world's conscience and a setback for the world's development. Adolescent girls who have children as children often have to drop out of school, depriving them of economic opportunities. They are at higher risk of complications from childbirth, and their babies are less likely to survive.

Simply put: When we ignore the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent girls, they suffer, their families suffer, and their communities suffer.

If we want truly healthy societies, we must meet all the health needs of adolescent girls -- including their sexual and reproductive health.

This year, World Population Day on July 11 is shining a spotlight on the importance of investing in youth. Adolescent reproductive health must be a key focus.

Today's young people make up the largest youth generation in history -- and they are entering into their reproductive years. We have an opportunity and an obligation to provide young people with the health information and services they need.

So what needs to be done?

We need to ensure that every girl can fully realize her sexual and reproductive health and rights. One simple and cost-effective way to help do this is to expand access to voluntary family planning. Right now, 222 million girls and women have an unmet need for modern contraception.

Meeting this need would have a positive ripple effect across the globe and across generations: 1.1 million fewer infants and 79,000 fewer women would die in childbirth. More girls would be able to stay in school longer, increasing their lifetime earnings and their opportunities. And it would promote the empowerment of girls and women, as well as the sustainability of the environment.

Voluntary family planning is one of the best investments we can make. Data show that every $1 invested in family planning can save up to $9 in other development costs.

Increasing attention and resources to voluntary family planning is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

That is why the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and global partnerships including Family Planning 2020 have made this a priority. While we are taking important steps, more work needs to be done and more resources need to be devoted to the issue.

Additionally, as we design reproductive health programs and deliver services, we must take into account the unique circumstances and needs of adolescent girls. Adolescents are not adults, and we shouldn't assume that what works for women will work for girls.

To make sure we are meeting the needs of girls, we must listen to them and include them in decision-making processes. We also need to improve data collection and analysis by gathering more data from girls and disaggregating more data by age and gender to ensure we understand the unique needs of different population segments.

Addressing the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescent girls will transform their lives and the lives of future generations. On World Population Day, let's commit to a healthier world for all.