Teen girls in focus for World Population Day

National 3 minutes, 8 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

DEVELOPING nations need to prioritise investment in teenage girls to ensure they enjoy the full benefits of economic growth and social progress, said the United Nations on the occasion of World Population Day.

“Just when girls should be in school and imagining the possibilities ahead, too many are held back from pursuing their ambitions by social and cultural traps,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a special message to mark World Population Day, which falls on July 11.

“While a boy’s options and opportunities tend to expand when he becomes an adolescent, those of a girl too often shrink. Half of all sexual assaults worldwide are committed against girls aged 15 or younger.

“In developing countries, one in three girls is married before she reaches 18. And teenage girls are less likely than teenage boys to start or finish secondary school.”

World Population Day is observed annually on July 11 to raise awareness of global population issues. This year’s theme is “Investing in Teenage Girls”, highlighting the millions of young women who face a lack of schooling, early marriage and motherhood which leaves them vulnerable to illness, injury and exploitation.

The UN has made achieving gender equality one of their critical goals for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Rectifying these inequalities is critical for the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I urge all governments, businesses and civil society to support and invest in teenage girls. 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,” said Ban.

The UN recently urged Brunei to take advantage of demographic shifts in Southeast Asia and encourage more female participation in social and economic development.

“Many women are spending disproportionate time on domestic caregiving, undercutting opportunities to generate an income, and policies designed to ensure equal pay, rights for women, work and public safety will be critical for fully realising demographic dividends,” stated the UN Development Programme in its 2016 Asia-Pacific Human Development Index.

“Women also need to be full participants in political and economic decision-making. Otherwise, there will be a lower likelihood that policies and plans will fully support their capabilities and contributions to development.”

In the sultanate, 56 per cent of women aged between 15 and 64 are either working or looking for work (compared with 79 per cent of men) – a labour force participation rate that is more than double the global average of 21 per cent.

However, despite Brunei having a near perfect score for gender parity in education and health and also scoring highly in women’s participation in the economy, 70 per cent of senior managerial positions in the sultanate are still held by men, including the government cabinet, which includes no female ministers.

The higher up the ladder, the wider the gap. For this reason, Brunei ranked 88 out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2016.

Cultural practices such as child marriage – which leads to teen pregnancy – are still present in the sultanate, with the government recording at least 63 child marriages in 2014 where the girl was under 18 and gave birth to her first child. Statistics were only gathered from antenatal government clinics and don’t include non-Muslim marriages, indicating that the actual number of child marriages could be higher.

The UN has repeatedly urged Brunei to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 in order to safeguard the rights of the child.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has invested millions of dollars in programmes to end child marriage, curb adolescent pregnancy and to empower girls to make informed choices about their health and lives.

In 2015 alone, UNFPA programmes helped 11.2 million girls between the ages of 10 and 19 gain access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.

The Brunei Times