UNITED NATIONS, March 11 (Xinhua) -- Investing in adolescent girls, especially in their education and reproductive health and rights, will ensure sustainable development for all, UN officials, government representatives and experts said here Friday.
The remarks were made at an event aimed at promoting the well-being of adolescent girls within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, a blueprint for the global development efforts for the next 15 years.
"It should not take an act of courage to go to school," said Deputy UN Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at a high-level forum on adolescent girls and the 2030 Agenda. "But in too many parts of the world, girls risk their lives just to attend class. "
The forum was organized by UNFPA and UN Women ahead of next week's meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
"A girl should not be forced to marry so young that her body is not ready for reproduction," Eliasson said. "But too many are engaged to be married when they, in fact, should be learning to read."
"Adolescent girls should never be a battleground in war," he said. "But we know that in conflicts, girls are raped with the intention of humiliating, demoralizing and breaking the whole community."
"The girls, who are subject to poverty, early marriage, female genital mutilation, abuse and other violations hold a great potential for progress in their countries and in our world," he said.
According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), there are currently 600 million adolescent girls with specific needs, challenges and aspirations for the future whose welfare is fundamental to achieving key economic and social objectives, including a competitive labour force, sustained economic growth, improved governance and vibrant civil societies.
Meanwhile, studies show that the longer girls stay in school, the more they can earn and the smaller they choose their families to be. Each year of secondary schooling reportedly increases girls' future wages by up to 20 percent, and when women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families -- two or three times as much as men do.
"The opening lines of our Charter commit us to 'the equal rights of men and women,'" Eliasson said. "And now we have a new, monumental push for equality with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."
The Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), which comprise the 2030 Agenda, commit the global community to giving all girls the opportunities they deserve on their path to adulthood. They aim to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health information as well as services to help them avoid unwanted pregnancy and stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
"Complications from pregnancies and deliveries are one of the leading causes of death for girls aged between 15 and 19," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women. "Girls who have been subjected to [female genital mutilation] are especially prone to birth complications."
Mlambo-Ngcuka added that UN Women is calling for all countries to repeal discriminatory laws that create barriers for women and girls in education, access to health care, decent jobs and equal pay.
"Investments in infrastructure [is needed] so that girls do not have to miss school fetching drinking water or fire wood, or for personal hygiene needs that are not met in the schools themselves," she said.
Grace Gyimah-Boaten, a Ghanaian woman invited to speak at the event, highlighted that she is a medical doctor today because she grew up in an enabling environment that helped her develop.
"Sadly, this is not the case for millions of other adolescent girls and we need to change this. Let us rise up for girls," she said, adding that there is no more time to waste.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women will convene its 60th session at UN Headquarters in New York on March 14-24 to focus on implementation of the ambitious agreement.
It will be the first of its kind after the adoption of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September last year.