Keeping girls in school until 18 is our ‘new mantra’ says UN agency chief

Girls' education

The head of the United Nations Population Fund says its “new mantra” is to help girls stay in school until they are 18.

UNFPA executive director Babatunde Osotimehin said ensuring girls get a full secondary education “in every nook and cranny of the world” will help to protect their rights and slow population growth.

Mr Osotimehin said girls and women have to be given the education and the access to services to make their own decisions on how many children to have.

During a visit to Jordan, he told the Associated Press that simply getting girls into primary school was not good enough to achieve this. He added: “We know that primary education is not the solution we are looking for. What we are looking for is secondary education.

“So our new campaign and our new mantra is to make sure that in every nook and cranny of the world, we get girls to go to school and stay in school.”

Mr Osotimehin added that “as we go into new sustainable development goals, we must up our game”. He was referring to the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years, which will be adopted by the United Nations in September.

Mr Osotimehin talks to a refugee child Picture: UNFPA

Education underpins all of the 17 SDGs – one of which is to achieve gender equality and empower all girls and women. On health, a child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of five. On gender equality, one additional year of school can increase a woman’s earnings by up to 20%. On consumption, education raises the odds of people using energy and water more efficiently.

Around the world, millions of girls drop out of school due to external forces such as child marriage, child labour and discrimination. Ensuring girls stay in school lessens their chances of being forced into child and early marriage. Girls with no education are up to six times more likely to marry as children than girls who have received secondary education.

The UNFPA says on its website: “When a girl becomes pregnant, her life can change radically. Her education may end and her job prospects diminish. She becomes more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion, and her health often suffers. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death among adolescent girls.

“Adolescent pregnancy is often not the result of a deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices: It is a consequence of little or no access to school, information or health care.”

Mr Osotimehin said earlier this year that one in three girls in the developing world is married before age 18 and that 225 million women have no access to modern contraception.

Learn more about the work of the UNFPA here. And learn more more about child marriage here.

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