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Investing in 10-year-old girls could yield huge demographic dividend, boost national economies

  • Girls are generally well educated in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region
  • But early marriage, teenage pregnancy and traditional gender roles risk squandering this enormous human capital.
  • Unlocking the potential of this generation of girls will enable countries in the region to realise the demographic dividend and boost their economies.

UNITED NATIONS, Istanbul, 20 October 2016—Early marriage, teenage pregnancy and other manifestations of deep-rooted gender inequalities undermine girls’ health and rights and threaten the world’s ambitious development agenda, warns UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, in The State of World Population 2016, released today.

Ten is a pivotal age for girls everywhere, as puberty approaches. In the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, some girls at this age flourish, gradually building their skills and enhancing their horizons, nurtured by an enabling and empowering environment in the family and community that encourages them to start making choices and shape their own future. But many others are held back by social and cultural norms and discriminatory laws and practices.

“At age 10, a girl in our region is at a crossroads,” UNFPA Regional Director Alanna Armitage says. “Which path she takes does not only matter for her own life. It matters for the lives of all of us. Because we all win when a girl – hundred girls, a generation of girls – can fulfil their potential: human capital strengthens, economies grow, wealth rises.”

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, girls are generally well-educated and later even surpass boys and young men in higher education, according to a supplement published by UNFPA’s Regional Office.  

But a combination of factors prevent many from realising their full potential as adults and from contributing to the economic and social progress of their communities and nations:

Ø  Early or child marriage, though illegal, remains common in parts of the region and often leads to girls having to leave school;

Ø  Teenage girls are three times more likely to get pregnant compared to Western Europe, negatively affecting the health and life prospects of both mother and child;

Ø  Young women have difficulties combining work and child-raising because parental leave and child care arrangements are insufficient and traditional gender roles discourage women from pursuing professional careers.

Without the contribution of today’s ten-year-old girls, the United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and its accompanying 17 Sustainable Development Goals may never be achieved.

“At the dawn of the Agenda 2030 era, as we have embarked on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, our success will in many ways depend on whether we are able to unleash the potential of this generation of girls,” Armitage adds.

The new development agenda, endorsed by world leaders in 2015, is the blueprint for countries’ social and economic progress for 15 years. It aims for equitable development that leaves no one behind. Removing the barriers that hold 10-year-old girls back today will increase the chances that the agenda will be a success, the report argues.

The range of proven policy options available to governments has grown over the past decade. These include tightening bans on harmful practices such as child marriage, providing life-skills training and age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to girls approaching puberty, and enacting gender-sensitive work-life policies. They also include, most fundamentally, the dismantling of traditional gender roles and stereotypes. 

The challenge now, UNFPA’s State of World Population report says, is to scale up these interventions to reach more girls, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Key facts and figures for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

  • Most 10-year-old girls are in school in this region (but this is not the case for all population groups; for example, more than 30% of young Roma are without even primary education in some countries) 
  • Child marriage is common in parts of the region, including Southeastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia, but since the practice is generally illegal, there are few reliable figures.
  • Teenage pregnancy is on the decline in the region but still three times more common than in Western Europe (and up to six times more common in some countries).
  • Far fewer girls are born than boys in some countries, due to gender-biased sex selection; the region has some of the world’s largest sex-ratio-at-birth imbalances.
  • Fewer women than men are in the workforce in all countries of the region.
  • Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable in humanitarian crisis situations but their needs and vulnerabilities are often overlooked.