The protection of the rights of teenage girls, especially those who are vulnerable to illness, injury and exploitation due to poverty, denial of education and forceful imposition of harmful traditional practices, is the theme that the United Nations has chosen to highlight on the annual World Population Day celebrated on July 11.
"Among those least served by previous development initiatives are girls, particularly those in their formative teenage years…Everyone deserves the benefits of economic growth and social progress. Let us work together to ensure a life of security, dignity and opportunity for all," United Nations Secretary General Ban ki Moon was quoted as saying on Monday as he spoke on World Population Day in his message.
The first World Population Day was observed on July 11, 1987, to symbolise public interest in what was then to be the approximate date when world population would swell to 5 billion people. Since then, the day has been used to aim people's awareness on various related social issues such as sex education, family planning, gender equality, poverty, maternal health and propagation of reproductive and human rights.
Speaking to also spread awareness about the event, another UN representative illustrated how girls in some parts of the world are often married off when they reach the age of puberty as their family or community deems them ready for marriage, pregnancy and childbirth.
“Not only can they suffer a debilitating condition, such as fistula, from delivering a child before their bodies are ready for it, they are also systemically oppressed and denied education.”
-Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)
"[Yet], when a teenage girl has the power, the means and the information to make her own decisions in life, she is more likely to overcome obstacles that stand between her and a healthy, productive future. This will benefit her, her family and her community," said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) was quoted saying in his message.
India and rights of teenage girls
India, currently, at 1.27 billion people, is expected to overtake china's population by 2025-2030 in the population growth which is projected to be 1.65 billion. But an even more startling fact is that India has a terrible record for protection of the rights of underage girls.
With varying estimates suggesting between 12.7 million and 23 million child brides according to census data and news reports published last year, India is said to account for nearly 40% of child brides globally.
But perhaps numbers are not enough to adequately display the plight of these girls.
Krishna, 14, sits with her four-month-old baby Alok, outside her house in a village near Baran, located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, January 21, 2013. Krishna married her husband Gopal when she was 11 and he was 13. Krishna had a very difficult delivery, losing lots of blood and remained in the hospital for several days. The legal age for marriage in India is 18, but marriages like these are common, especially in poor, rural areas where girls in particular, are married off young. Picture taken January 21, 2013.Reuters
A veiled girl from the Saraniya community waits for her engagement ceremony to start at Vadia village in the western Indian state of Gujarat March 11, 2012. The Vadia village in western India hosted a mass wedding and engagement ceremony of 21 girls on Sunday aimed at breaking a tradition of prostitution which has for centuries exploited women of a poor, marginalised and once nomadic community in the region.Reuters
Boys and girls from the Saraniya community wearing garlands pose for pictures after their engagement ceremony at Vadia village in the western Indian state of Gujarat March 11, 2012. The Vadia village in western India hosted a mass wedding and engagement ceremony of 21 girls on Sunday aimed at breaking a tradition of prostitution which has for centuries exploited women of a poor, marginalised and once nomadic community in the regionReuters