On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, UNICEF draws attention to the 515 million adolescent girls in the developing world who can help their families, communities and countries to prosper if they are empowered with education and skills.
Secondary education is critical to girls’ development, empowerment and protection. It contributes to greater civic participation, and helps to combat violence, sexual harassment and human trafficking.
Extending education to adolescent girls is also proven to lower infant mortality, delay the age of marriage, reduce incidence of domestic violence, lower fertility rates and improve child nutrition. And it is the best known defense against HIV and AIDS – to which adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable.
Worldwide, more than 60 per cent of all young people living with HIV are female, and in sub-Saharan Africa, this figure rises to nearly 70 per cent.
Today, almost 71 million adolescents are out of school, and more than half are girls. Most out-of-school girls are poor and live in the least developed countries.
By making schooling compulsory into the secondary level, governments provide a stronger incentive for families to ensure that their children complete primary education.
School fees are often prohibitive for poor families, and by abolishing school fees for primary and secondary school, a greater number of children can continue learning.
Additional efforts must be made to reach out to the most marginalized adolescents, those youth who currently suffer from discrimination based on their gender, ethnicity, economic situation or physical abilities. These adolescents and their families may not have access to schools as a result of social stigma.
Adolescent girls hold the key to making the second decade of life a phase of opportunity. They deserve equal access to education and training.