Investment in Girls Key to Achieving Global Goals, Report Argues

Achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals will require significant investments in protecting the rights and health of girls, a report from the United Nations Population Fund argues.

According to the report, The State of World Population 2016 (116 pages, PDF), practices that violate girls' rights and undermine their health as they approach adolescence — including forced marriage, child labor, and female genital mutilation — prevent many girls from realizing their potential and contributing fully to the economic and social progress of their communities and nations. Today, 89 percent of the 125 million ten-year-olds in the world — sixty million of whom are girls — live in less developed regions of the world, while more than half live in the forty-eight countries with the highest levels of gender inequality.

Globally, girls are less likely than boys to complete formal schooling at the secondary and university levels, are more likely to be in poor physical and mental health, and find it more difficult to get paid jobs. Every day, an estimated 47,700 girls under the age of 18 are married, and 75 percent of girl laborers are unpaid, compared with 64 percent of boys. The study also found that the leading cause of death among adolescent girls between the ages of 10 and 19 is AIDS — with many new HIV infections attributed to intimate-partner violence and rape — followed by suicide.

To ensure progress toward the SDGs, the report argues that expanding access to education for girls is essential. Yet, some sixty-two million adolescent girls around the world are not currently in school, while sixteen million girls between the ages of 6 and 11 will never start school, twice the number of boys. Based on research showing that every additional year of schooling increases a woman's wages later in life by 11.7 percent (compared with 9.6 percent for men), the report estimates that if all ten-year-old girls today were to complete secondary education, developing countries could unlock $21 billion a year in increased economic activity.

"Impeding a girl's safe, healthy path through adolescence to a productive and autonomous adulthood is a violation of her rights," said UNFPA executive director Babatunde Osotimehin. "But it also takes a toll on her community and nation. Whenever a girl's potential goes unrealized, we all lose....How we invest in and support ten-year-old girls today will determine what our world will look like in 2030."

"UNFPA State of World Population 2016." United Nations Population Fund Press Release 10/20/2016. "The State of World Population 2016." United Nations Population Fund Report 10/20/2016.