9 May 2006
International Workshop Focuses on Vulnerable Girls
DAR ES SALAAM, 6 May (UNFIP) -- With children representing a large and growing segment of the world's population, the World Bank has decided that investment in children and youth is now a political and economic necessity, a bank official told an international meeting on adolescent girls Friday.
"In many countries, children and youth form the majority of the population", said Emmanuel Malangalila, a senior health specialist at the World Bank Africa Region. "The cost of not investing in youth is serious both politically and economically." As a sign of its commitment to investing in youth, the Bank is devoting one of its annual World Development Report to the subject of youth. The 2006 Report is scheduled to be released in October.
Mr. Malangalila addressed a meeting of international organizations and youth representatives gathered in Dar es Salaam to discuss the crisis of underprivileged girls in developing countries. Adolescent girls from 17 Asian, African and Latin American countries came to contribute youth perspectives on problems such as poverty, early marriage, sexual abuse, and increased HIV and AIDS infection rates among young girls.
"Worldwide, adolescent girls are vulnerable and disadvantaged just because of who they are", Rodney Phillips, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative in the United Republic of Tanzania, said during the five-day workshop. "The majority have little or no education, little or no economic assets or opportunities, few friends or confidantes, and little chance to be the subjects of their own development."
The workshop was designed to assess how international organizations, Governments and local communities can better structure programmes to reach the most vulnerable members of society, who often are neglected and overlooked. "There have been two decades of investment in and expansion of programmes for adolescent girls. Yet, we are far from reaching the absolutely most critical population", said Judith Bruce, a noted expert on gender and family issues with the New York-based Population Council. She said the second generation of programmes must do a better job of locating the girls hardest to reach and designing programmes better able to assist them. "What happens to girls in early adolescence in the poorest communities is intricately linked to all the most serious problems we face", she said. "If we don't solve them at the right time, if we don't do the right thing at the right time for these girls, then we will not reach our goals with regard to maternal mortality. Girls will be dropping out of school, and that will put them on the path to early marriages, and will force them to become children having children.
According to the Population Council, more than 52 million girls in the developing world were married as children. The results are daunting: poor health outcomes and economic prospects for the mother, higher infant mortality rates, and an ongoing and vicious cycle of poverty. Ms. Bruce said, "The single best investment we can make is keeping girls in school, which allows them to build social assets and economic capacity."
The frightening new addition to the troubles of adolescent girls in developing countries is the impact of the AIDS epidemic on this fragile group. "The HIV epidemic is increasingly young and female", said Ms. Bruce, who added that the infection rate is growing faster among young disadvantaged girls than any other population group, and the girls in this category include child brides, who often are subjected to forced and unprotected sex from older husbands who infect them.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals emphasize the need for investing in child health and education in order to ensure equitable economic progress and stable social development. Targeting the rights and needs of adolescent girls is a sine qua non for reaching these goals. "This meeting has agreed that, in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, we must invest in the most marginalized and disadvantaged girls -- the other Millennium Development Goals", said Kimberly Gamble-Payne, Director of Programmes of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP). Specifically, raising the age of marriage, ensuring that girls complete their education and making social policy and national law work for girls are the immediate goals for the United Nations system and non-governmental organization partners.
Participants at the workshop reviewed lessons learned from programming for adolescent girls in 17 countries, carried out by a number of UN agencies over a six-year period, with $60 billion in funding from the UN Foundation, which was established by Ted Turner to provide a $1 billion donation to the UN system and related goals. The next phase of programming will be based in part on the experiences from these countries.
The Dar es Salaam workshop was organized by the UNICEF, in coordination with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), UNFIP, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Population Council. Also in attendance were government representatives from six countries, including Benin, Jordan, Malawi, Mongolia, Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania. Among non-government organizations represented at the conference were the Federation of African Women Educators and Equality Now of Kenya.
Adolescent boys and girls who attended the workshop travelled from Benin, Bangladesh, Botswana, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Jordan, Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Mongolia, Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania. These youth participants, joined by a group of Tanzanians, were able to exchange views on problems in their countries at a two-day Adolescent Forum that preceded the main meeting, which ended Friday. "It was interesting to see how the problems in our countries were so similar sometimes", said Yewbdar Getahun Mamo of Ethiopia, who was one of many participants travelling outside their countries for the first time. "The best part of the workshop was meeting the other girls and learning about their countries. I didn't even know there was a country called Guatemala."
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