VIENTIANE, March 28 (Xinhua) -- Lao Ministry of Education and Sports and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have agreed to strengthen their partnership by continuing to build on their campaign titled "Noi."
The "Noi" campaign was launched in 2016 on International Day of the Girl Child (October 11) and acknowledged the grim reality of adolescent girls informed by the country's 2015 Population and Housing Census, which showed that 42,000 adolescent girls have never attended school and 91,662 girls aged between six and 16 have dropped out of school.
Girls out of school tend to marry younger and have children at a younger age with Laos having the earliest age of marriage in the region; one in 10 girls marry by the age of 15 while early marriage is often related to early pregnancy.
Laos has the highest adolescent birth rate in the region, with an estimated 76 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.
Lao education and sports ministry signed off on the Implementing Partner (IP) Agreement and 2017 Annual Work Plan with the UNFPA on Tuesday, inked by the Minister of Education and Sports, Sengdeuane Lachanthaboun and UNFPA representative, Frederika Meijer.
The newly signed agreement will particularly be focused on issues that keep girls in school and strengthen girls' social, health and economic assets.
Local media Vientiane Times on Tuesday quoted Sengdeuane as saying that, in particular, girls in rural areas face more challenging situations to access information and education.
"They need special attention to be able to stay in school, to be empowered so that all girls can develop and strive towards reaching their full potential," she said.
This reaffirms the Lao government's commitment to investing in "Noi," as well as the alignment of the UNFPA supported activities with the ministry's sector plans and priorities, said the report.
UNFPA's sixth Country Program (CP6) 2017--2021 has partnerships with a number of different ministries and focuses on youth and adolescent issues through supporting data analyses as well as strengthening and increasing access to reproductive health information and services.
Meijer said, "Currently, adolescents and young people are often left out of the dialogue about them and their voices are often not heard." To change this there is a need for an enabling policy environment where adolescents and young people are given specific attention and where national development takes their particular needs into account, she added.
She pointed out that investing in girls' education is crucial for the advancement of women and gender equality and provides for the best returns on investments.