The majority of adolescent girls still cannot access the level of education and health services needed to ensure their welfare, especially in rural areas.
In an effort to address the issue, the government has invested significant amounts of money and effort into improving the education sector, including launching the Lao Adolescents for Sustainable Development initiative.
Girls typically suffer from a lack of education and job opportunities, as well as poor health and nutrition, health officials say.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative, Ms Frederika Meijer, adressed the subject during a press conference to mark International Day of Girl Children under the theme “Investing in Adolescent Girls for Sustainable Development”.
She said Laos still has the highest incidence of early marriage and early pregnancy in the ASEAN region, with one in five girls aged 15-19 having already given birth.
There are about 700,000 adolescent girls aged 10-19 in Laos. More than 42,000 adolescent girls have never attended school. One in four girls drop out of school. Some girls, on the verge of adolescence, see limitless possibilities ahead. Unfortunately, others may be forced to marry and become a mother by the age of 15 and face the many health risks attached to early pregnancy. This is due to various reasons, including traditional beliefs and other societal reasons, Ms Meijer said.
Vice President of the Lao Women’s Union (LWU), Ms Thoummaly Vongphachanh, said the statistics are unacceptable.
She noted that the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan puts a great focus on human resource development. It is the government’s priority to ensure that all Lao people, women and men, can reach their full potential and become productive, healthy and happy citizens.
Ms Thoummaly said a girl must have the opportunity to decide her own future. Whenever a girl’s potential goes unrealised we all lose and “we will not be able to achieve SDG 5 on gender equality”.
The LWU has an education policy for impoverished girls under a project run in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Sports, which centres on community initiation initiatives.
Health centres nationwide can offer advice to women at risk while vocational training is also available, as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare work together to tackle the lack of opportunities for young women and girls.
This year signals the start of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the UNFPA together with the Lao government will work in partnership to call for greater investment in adolescent girls, which can greatly contribute to the achievement of the country’s development goals.
Source: Vientiane Times