KATHMANDU: More than 60 government officials, parliament members, adolescent girls and women and girl-led civil society organizations from eight countries came together to advance adolescent girls’ rights in South Asia.
Participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka committed to focusing on adolescent girls in policies, actions and resource allocation plans at a regional consultation organized by UNICEF in Kathmandu. In response to girls’ calls for change, they also developed a plan to harness the potential of millions of adolescent girls in South Asia by investing in their future.
“Far too many young girls in South Asia are forced to get married, drop out of school or are subjected to abuse. Despite the challenges, everywhere I go in this region, I see girls who are driven and determined, skilled and solution oriented,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. “The message is clear: South Asia’s girls want equal opportunities. And they want them now. Together, we need to ensure that all girls in this region are not left behind. Evidence shows that when we invest in girls, we lift nations.”
South Asia is home to one-third of the world’s 600 million adolescent girls – or a staggering 170 million – yet they are undervalued, and their potential remains largely untapped. For example, 1 in every 5 girls is undernourished. More than half of adolescent girls are anaemic. Only 36 per cent of girls have completed secondary school.
In addition, South Asia accounts for nearly half of the world’s child brides. Across the region, about one-third of adolescent girls are not being educated, employed or trained. Investment in adolescent girls is low, compounded by climate change and conflicts.
To deliver on basic rights for every child, as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF and government partners work together to provide adolescent girls with programmes to keep them safe, healthy and build their skills:
In Bangladesh, investments targeted at girls’ education have shown to help in keeping girls in school and reducing child marriage.
The Ministry of Education and Skills Development in Bhutan is focusing efforts on Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and digital skills for girls.
Advika model, a government platform reaching one million adolescents in India’s Odisha State, both engages and empowers adolescents and their communities to prevent child marriage.
In the Maldives, the Government is strengthening services for girls and women at risk of domestic violence. Girls like Zara from the Maldives are emerging as leaders in fighting against climate change.
In Nepal, the Mayor’s office leads on budget allocation for girls’ flagship programmes in Lumbini Cultural Municipality.
The Prime Minister’s Office in Pakistan is leading the Youth Programme Framework focusing on Empowerment, Environment, Education and Employment.
UNICEF plans to reach 25 million girls by 2025 but to do so, more commitments are needed from policy makers and partners in South Asia. To accelerate change, participants at the forum jointly agreed to:
Harness the potential of adolescent girls by capitalizing on the sheer numbers and investing in them to ensure their rights and well-being.
Governments, private sector businesses and philanthropic organizations to commit to equitable, tailored and meaningful investments today to allow adolescent girls to fulfil their potential.
Support and celebrate girls’ leadership: South Asian governments and other partners to ensure girls’ rights are at the core of their policies and actions.
Evidence from UNICEF’s Investment Case for Girls suggests that with adequate health and nutrition investments, the world could save more than 12 million lives, prevent more than 30 million unwanted pregnancies, and greatly reduce maternal and newborn deaths and injuries. “No nation can get ahead if half its population is left behind. We must make bold investments to ensure that every girl in South Asia can complete their education, get better health services and live a life free of violence,” added Wijesekera. “By empowering a girl to take charge of her life, we are not just empowering an individual, but an entire community.”