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.

"[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.

Another report titled 'Ending Child Marriage - Progress and prospects', published by the UN, suggests that India has the sixth highest prevalence of child marriage in the world with one in every three child bride living in India.

 But perhaps numbers are not enough to adequately display the plight of these girls.