The State of the World Population (SWOP) 2016 titled “How our future depends on a girl at this decisive age” was released in Vientiane Capital, yesterday that called for the investment in adolescent girls.
To mark the event, The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Lao PDR in collaboration with the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), the Ministry of Health (MoH), the Lao Youth Union (LYU), and the Lao Women’s Union (LWU) and other development partners, such as MCNV, the European Union, Plan International, Child Fund, CARE International, Save the Children, organized an event under the theme “Our future depends on how well we invest in adolescent girls today”.
The event included the launch of the State of the World Population Report, and of a collectively produced animation film of “Noi”, a story of adolescent girls in Lao PDR. It was followed by a Research Forum on Adolescent Reproductive Health.
The 2016 UNFPA report shows that forced marriage, child labour and other harming practices undermine the health and rights of girls – starting at age 10 – preventing them from realizing their full potential as adults. The United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and its accompanying 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) may never be achieved in countries and regions where girls are not accepted to participate in this plan of social and economic progress.
Ten is a pivotal age for girls everywhere, as puberty approaches. In some parts of the world, a girl at this age enjoys limitless possibilities and begins making choices that influences her education, and later, her work, and her life. But in other parts, a girl who goes through puberty is suddenly seen as a commodity that may be bought, sold or traded, the UNFPA report shows. She may be forced to marry, pulled out of school and expected to start bearing children at a young age, beginning a lifetime of servitude and submission. This girl never decides about her own fate.
“Impeding a girl’s safe healthy path through adolescence to a productive and autonomous adulthood is a violation of her rights,” Vice President of LWU, Ms Sirikit Boupha. “But it also takes a toll on her community and nation. Whenever a girl’s potential goes unrealized, we all lose.”
In Lao PDR, there are 700,230 adolescent girls aged 10-19 presenting the challenges and opportunities for the countries development. And despite much progress made, these girls today are facing issues about going to school, sufficient job opportunities, poor health and a healthy intake of nutrition.
“Investing in adolescent girls, specifically in their education and sexual and reproductive health education, can help bring about a demographic dividend through a number of different paths: better educated girls are more likely to work, and will earn more money when they do. Girls who remain in school through their adolescence are also more likely to marry later, have children when they are ready, and be empowered to make their own decisions, to take care of their families, and contribute to the country development. If we would like to maximize the potentials of the large population that we have today, we cannot leave any young girls behind,” said Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, PhD Kikeo Chanthaboury.
To increase the understanding of some challenges faced by adolescent girls in Laos, an animation film “Noi” was created jointly by LYU, LWU, MPI, and UNFPA. The “Noi” character represents all adolescent girls, and her diversity in Lao PDR. She has been developed with the idea to bundle and align all investments through multi-sectoral partnerships assisting adolescent girls in realizing their potential.
The film shows that more than 42,000 adolescent girls never attended school. One in four girls dropped out of school. One in 10 girls aged 15-19 married before age 15, and nearly one in five has begun childbearing. Without support from all sectors and partners, adolescent girls will not be able to reach their dreams.
Deputy General Secretary of LYU, Ms. Vilavanh Phanthavong said that, “‘Noi” is representative of all adolescent Lao girls. Her story is aimed to bring out issues that are relevant to adolescent girls and advocate for greater attention and investment for this important age group. It is our hope that ‘Noi’ will be owned by all partners.”
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.
Ms. Frederika added: “What and how we invest in adolescent girls such as ‘Noi’ today, will determine how Lao PDR will look like in 2030.”
The launch of the State of World Population Report and the film ‘Noi’ was followed by the Research Forum on Adolescent Reproductive Health. The Forum, led by NIOPH, brought together researchers and experts from the Mekong Sub-Region to share experiences and lessons learned on adolescent reproductive health. The forum aims to assess evidence gaps and establish an Adolescent research agenda to better understand the complex issues faced by them in Laos and other Mekong countries. A regional research network and an on-line platform were also launched. The website under the named sdg4a.org (SDGs for Adolescents) is hosted by the National Institute of Public Health here in Lao PDR.
The event today marks a significant step for the Government in striving towards reaching SDG Goal 17 – Partnerships. This event was jointly organized and supported by the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the Ministry of Health, the Lao Youth Union, the Lao Women’s Union, UNFPA, MCNV, the EU, Plan International, Child Fund, CARE International, and Save the Children. These partnerships will strive to educate and empower Noi, and help to bring about the future we all want.
She is 10 years old. Capable of rapidly absorbing wisdom and knowledge from those around her, she is poised to one day become an inspiring leader, a productive worker, an innovator, a caring parent or any of the other roles that power a thriving, dynamic society. She will shape the future of her community and our shared world. A flurry of life-changing events pulls her in many directions. Where she ends up depends on the support she receives and the power she has to shape her own future. In fact, a 10-year-old girl’s life trajectory will be the true test of whether the 2030 agenda is a success or failure, the report states.