Today, the world’s population includes a record-breaking 1.2 billion adolescents who are approaching—or already in—their reproductive years. Unfortunately, 60% of the 15-19 year old girls in developing countries have an unmet need for modern contraception that could save their lives and help them to take charge of their lives.
The family planning gap is a hope and an opportunity gap—for adolescents and for everyone else too. Here are four of the ways that increasing adolescents’ access to and use of modern contraception, bolstered by comprehensive sexuality education, would dramatically transform our world for the better.
1. Millions of adolescent girls would no longer fear unintended pregnancy—and with it, the risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth.
Approximately 23 million 15-19 year old girls in developing countries with a desire to prevent or delay pregnancy are currently not using modern contraceptives. This is literally a life or death proposition: today, pregnancy-related complications are the number one killer of adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19.
Satisfying the family planning needs of adolescent girls would result in 6 million fewer unintended pregnancies, 3.2 million fewer abortions (including 2.4 million fewer unsafe abortions), 700,000 fewer miscarriages and 5,600 fewer maternal deaths—all for just a cost of US$ 3 per woman per year.
2. More adolescent girls would stay in school and realize their full potential.
In some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, up to 25% of girls and young women drop out of school because of unintended pregnancies. But with greater access to modern and voluntary family planning, the opportunity to use it, and information about reproductive health, adolescents are empowered to decide on their own bodies and fertility, and can better shape their own lives. They are more likely to stay in school, join the workforce, keep their jobs and realize their full potential.
3. More girls would lift themselves, their families and communities from the cycle of poverty.
Every additional year of schooling for a girl increases her future earnings by 10% to 20%. These increased earnings create a positive ripple effect that goes way beyond the individual person—a ripple effect we in general see when we invest in girls and women.
What’s more, for every 10% more girls that go to school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3%. Take Kenya: If all 200,000 adolescent mothers in Kenya completed secondary school and were employed instead of having children early, Kenya would add US$ 3.4 billion to its gross income every year—an amount equivalent to the entire Kenyan construction sector.
4. All of us would enjoy greater social and economic prosperity.
As if it wasn‘t enough that access to contraception is a human right, eliminating the global unmet need for modern and voluntary contraception would also yield a whopping US$ 120 for every $1 spent. That’s potentially hundreds of billions of dollars that could be invested in delivering quality health and social services, improving infrastructure, supporting small businesses and catalyzing cutting-edge research and innovation.
And it’s just the beginning. Ensuring that every adolescent girl can become a healthy, educated thriving adult—starting with her freedom to choose if and when to have children—will bring us closer to global economy in which women and men participate equally. That world would be US$ 28 trillion dollars richer by 2025.
So what’s stopping us?
Meeting adolescents’ need for modern contraception is one of the smartest decisions we can make, creating hope and fostering opportunities. Yet progress often depends on overcoming cultural, societal and political barriers.
Champions for adolescent girls must continue to: break the stigma around adolescent access to and use of modern contraception, along with the stigma associated with teen pregnancy; engage and put young people front and center in our conversations, solutions and actions; and advocate and spread the word about progress and about what works in regards to policies, programs and initiatives centered on adolescent needs.
The payoff of investing in adolescents will be enormous. Their needs, choices and opportunities will define the present, the future and the world as we want it.