Factsheet: The Reality of Adolescent Girls' Lives
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More than one billion people are 10 to 19 years old. They face enormous and unprecedented threats to their health, yet lack access to information, education, and services. Girls are at a particular risk because of persistent gender inequalities and practices such as child marriage.
Millions of adolescent girls around the world marry at a very young age.
• Eighty-two million girls in developing countries who are now 10 to 17 will be married before their eighteenth birthday.1
• In Nepal, 7% of girls are married before age ten, and 40% by the time they are 15.2
Typically, their husbands are much older, and have or have had other partners.
• Research from 16 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa indicates that husbands of 15 to 19-year-old girls are on average ten years older than their wives.3
Unmarried adolescent girls are also sexually active.
• In Ghana, nearly half of unmarried 15 to 19-year-old girls have had sex; roughly one-third have in Jamaica, Mali, and Tanzania.4
• By age 17, more than half of girls in the United States have had sex; more than three-quarters have by age 19.5
Much of their sexual activity is motivated by poverty, and often it is coerced and violent.
• Nearly one-third of pregnant teenagers at an antenatal clinic in Cape Town, South Africa, said their first intercourse had been forced. More than three-quarters said they would be beaten if they refused sex.6
• Four out of ten unmarried 15 to 19-year-old Kenyan girls said they had received money, gifts, or favors in exchange for sex in the past year.7
Millions of girls, married or not, lack the most basic information and services to protect themselves, and have little or no ability to negotiate use of condoms and other contraceptives.
• Surveys in 17 countries found that half of girls could not name a method of protection against HIV.8
• Half of all teenage girls in Sub-Saharan Africa do not know that a healthy-looking person can be living with HIV/AIDS.9
• In Bolivia, only 42% of 15 to 19-year-old girls living in urban areas know where to obtain modern contraceptives. Far fewer—only 14%—of those in rural areas do.10
• Only 7% of married adolescents in India use contraception.11
Pregnancy at a young age is dangerous.
• Young women aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely as those in their twenties to die from childbirth; girls under 15 are five times as likely to die.12
• Pregnancy is the leading cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls worldwide.2
Many adolescents risk their lives and health to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
• More than 4.4 million 15 to 19-year-old girls have abortions every year, 40% under unsafe conditions.13
• In Kenya and Nigeria, more than half of women suffering from the most severe complications of an unsafe abortion are adolescents.14
Adolescent girls are at highest risk of HIV/AIDS—in fact, HIV/AIDS is fast becoming a "girls' epidemic."
• A recent study in Zimbabwe found that about 17% of 19-year-old girls were infected with HIV, compared with about 3% of boys their age.15
• In the United States, more than half (54%) of 13 to 19-year-olds diagnosed with AIDS in the year 2000 were girls.16
Comprehensive sexuality education programs enable adolescents to make safe and responsible decisions about sex.
• These programs tend to delay the beginning of sexual activity, and increase condom or contraceptive use for those who are already sexually active.17
• There is no evidence that abstinence-only sexuality education delays sexual initiation, or has any value for adolescents who are sexually active.17
Parents in the United States want comprehensive sexuality education provided in schools.
• A survey of U.S. parents found that they support sexuality education that discusses a wide range of topics, including negotiating skills, what to do in cases of sexual assault, and condoms and other contraceptives.18
1 Bruce J, “Married Adolescent Girls: Human Rights, Health and Development Needs of a Neglected Majority,” New York: Population Council, Sept. 6, 2001, Working Group on Girls Steering Committee/UNICEF Briefing.
2 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Early marriage: child spouses, Innocenti Digest No. 7, March 2001.
3 Calculations done by the Population Council using data from Demographic and Health Surveys.
4 Singh S et al., Gender differences in the timing of first intercourse: data from 14 countries, International Family Planning Perspectives, 2000, 26(1):21–28 & 43.
5 Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), Issues in Brief: Teen Sex and Pregnancy, New York and Washington, DC: AGI, 1999, www:agi-usa.org/sections/sexbe.html, accessed May 31, 2002.
6 Heise L, Ellsberg M, and Gottemoeller M, “Ending Violence Against Women,” Population Reports, Series L, No. 11, 1999.
7 Sexual Violence Against Girls and Women, Nairobi, Kenya: Population Council, Gender, Family and Development Program.
8 UNIFEM, Gender and HIV/AIDS, http://www.unifem.undp.org/hiv-aids/ungass, accessed July 24, 2001.
9 UNICEF, UNAIDS, and World Health Organization (WHO), Coordinates 2002: Charting Progress Against AIDS, TB and Malaria, prepublication issue, Geneva: WHO, 2002.
10 AGI, Into a New World: Young Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Lives, New York and Washington, DC: AGI, 1998.
11 International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) Information Bulletin, Youth, Gender, Well-Being and Society: A Contextual Approach to Adolescent Reproductive Health and Sexuality in India, Washington, DC: ICRW, June 2001.
12 United Nations General Assembly, We the Children: End-Decade Review of the Follow-up to the World Summit for Children: Report of the Secretary General, May 4, 2001, doc. no. A/S-27/3.
13 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Population Issues Briefing Kit, NY: United Nations, 2001.
14 Children, Youth and Unsafe Abortion, Chapel Hill, NC: IPAS.
15 Gregson s et al., Sexual mixing patterns and sex differentials in teenage exposure to HIV infection in rural Zimbabwe, Lancet, 2002, 359(9321), 1896-1903.
16 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AIDS in Adolescents and Adults, by Sex and Age at Diagnosis, Reported in 2000, United States, http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/graphics/images/l265/l265-3.htm, accessed Jan. 24, 2002.
17 Satcher D, The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior, Rockville, MD: Office of the Surgeon General, 2001, http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/sexualhealth/default.htm, accessed Jan. 28, 2002.
18 Kaiser Family Foundation, Sex Education in America, Summary of Findings, Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation, Sept. 2000.
Compiled by the International Women's Health Coalition, last updated June 4, 2002. For more information, contact Whitney Welshimer, Communications Assistant, 212-979-8500 or email@example.com.