27 March 2018: Australia is quietly failing the world's teenage girls

More than half a billion girls worldwide are being ignored in foreign policy and funding, despite facing insurmountable problems and suffering intense hardships, according to a new report released today.

Girls’ rights organisation Plan International Australia’s Half a Billion Reasons report is the first thorough analysis of issues facing teenage girls worldwide. The report focuses on child marriage, teen pregnancy, and lack of access to education, gender-based violence and discrimination faced by 500,000,000 teenage girls currently living in the developing world.

Plan International Australia’s CEO Susanne Legena said despite the huge burden suffered by teenage girls worldwide, they are virtually invisible in Australia’s current aid and development agenda. She labelled funding for programs to achieve gender equality for girls aged 10 to 19 as “totally inadequate”.

“In South Sudan, a teenage girl is three times more likely to die in childbirth than complete her education. In Bangladesh, more than half of all girls are married before they turn 18. In every developing country in the world, the odds are stacked against teenage girls,” Ms Legena said.

“Female genital mutilation, forced underage marriage, receiving less food than their brothers, being removed from school early, struggling to access birth control, trying to manage their periods without shame or disadvantage: these are just some of the things teens worldwide contend with every day.

“Yet, adolescent girls are almost completely ignored in Australia’s aid and development program and foreign policy. They barely rate a mention in Australia’s new Foreign Policy White Paper and in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Gender Equality Strategy ‘girls’ are just an afterthought. We can do better. We’re asking for a greater focus on teenage girls in aid and development and foreign policy. The United States has a standalone strategy for adolescent girls, we can have one too.”

The Half a Billion Reasons report makes a clear case for investment in adolescent girls as the best strategy to break intergenerational poverty. When adolescent girls are healthy, educated, and safe and empowered, they build strong, sustainable and economically secure communities.

“Adolescent girls hold the key to breaking the intergenerational poverty in the developing world. Until we start to smash the barriers that hold them back, we will never make progress. The majority (83%) of girls aged 10-19 in the world live in developing countries. So that’s almost all of our next female leaders, workers and mothers,” Ms Legena added.

“All it takes to transform the lives of millions of girls from one of suffering and poverty to one where all girls realise their potential is investment. With the Federal election around the corner and political parties developing their commitments on aid, we want our politicians to take a stand for girls and gender equality globally.

“Australia has a crucial role to play to unlock the potential of girls. We need our government to make adolescent girls visible in Australia’s agenda on foreign policy, trade, and overseas aid and development.”

Key statistics from the Half a Billion Reasons report:

Over half a billion adolescent girls live in the developing world.
  • Every 2 seconds a girl becomes a child bride somewhere in the world. 
  • Pregnancy related complications are the leading cause of death for adolescent girls aged 15 to 19.
  • Only 18% of adolescent girls in Papua New Guinea attend upper secondary school. 
  • In Asia, 1 in 3 girls who experience violence at school will never report the incident.  
  • In parts of Vanuatu, 75% of girls miss up to three days of school each month because they have their period.
  • Adolescent girls and young women make up 76% of young people around the world who are not in school, training or employment.
  • In conflict-affected countries nearly 90% of adolescent girls are more likely to be out of secondary school than girls in countries not affected by conflict.
  • Every day 507 women and adolescent girls die from pregnancy related causes in countries that are fragile states affected by conflict or disaster.
The case for investing in adolescent girls:
  • If all the 10-year-old girls who drop out of school or do not attend school in developing countries completed secondary education, they would contribute $21 billion a year to their economies. 
  • A university educated young woman is two times more likely to enter the labour market than a less educated (primary level) woman.  
  • If all the unmet contraceptive needs of women and girls were met, unplanned pregnancies and births would fall by 75%.
  • The World Bank has shown that for every year an adolescent girl remains in school after age 11, her risk of unplanned pregnancy declines by 6% throughout secondary school.
  • If women were to participate in the economy at a level comparable to men, global GDP would grow by 26% or $USD 28 trillion, by 2025.  
  • When women and girls over 16 earn an income they reinvest 90% of it in their families, compared to men who reinvest only 30% to 40%.


About Plan International

Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. Working together with children, young people, our supporters and partners, we strive for a just world, tackling the root causes of the challenges facing girls and all vulnerable children.