August 11 2018: Teenage girls are grossly underfunded in foreign aid

Teens in the developing world are being overlooked in aid funding, according to an international report spanning 15 years of data, released by the Murdoch Children’s Research Centre and Harvard Medical School today.

Development agency Plan International Australia says adolescent girls in particular, are being overlooked despite suffering intense hardships.

Researchers found only 1.6 per cent of global investment in health projects in 132 low-income countries over 14 years was allocated to improving the health and well-being of adolescents.

The Western Pacific, including Fiji and Papua New Guinea, received the least donor health development assistance with only 2 cents per year, per adolescent, spent since 2003. 

Teens in Sub-Saharan Africa received the most development assistance for health, but the annual investment remained only 40 cents spent for each adolescent each year.

Plan International Australia estimates there are 500,000,000 teenage girls currently living in the developing world who are virtually invisible in Australia’s current aid and development agenda. CEO Susanne Legena labelled funding for programs 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. 

“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 about teenage girls in the developing world: 

  • 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. 
  • 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.