Approximately 16 million girls ages 15 to 19 (most of them already married) give birth each year. On July 11, World Population Day, we join the global community in raising awareness on the issue of adolescent pregnancy in the hopes of protecting and empowering millions of girls around the globe.

Adolescent pregnancy has dire health, social and economic consequences for girls, their communities, and nations. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for girls ages 15 to 19 in low-and middle-income countries. Stillbirths and death are 50 per cent more likely for babies born to mothers younger than 20 than for babies born to mothers in their 20s. We know that girls who become pregnant often face discrimination within their communities, drop out of school, and have more children at shorter intervals throughout their lifetime. A World Bank study (PDF) found that the lifetime opportunity cost related to adolescent pregnancy in developing countries ranges from 10 percent of annual GDP in Brazil to 30 percent of annual GDP in Uganda.

World Population Day 2013 aims to draw awareness to the issue of adolescent pregnancy. Photo credit: Netsanet Assaye, Courtesy of Photoshare

I believe meeting the reproductive health needs for today’s young people is vital to ensure future generations are able to lead healthy and dignified lives.  In developing countries overall, 22 per cent of adolescent girls (aged 15-19) who are married or in union use contraceptives, compared to 61 percent of married girls and women aged 15-49 (PDF). Lack of information, fear of side effects, and other barriers—geographic, social, and economic—prevent young people from obtaining and using family planning methods.

It’s appropriate that this World Population Day also marks a year since the historic London Summit on Family Planning, and the launch of Family Planning 2020. This global partnership supports the right of women and girls to decide, freely, and for themselves, whether, when, and how many children they want to have. I am proud to be on the Reference Group of the Family Planning 2020 initiative (PDF) that aims to enable 120 million more women and girls to access family planning information and services by 2020.

As the largest bilateral donor for family planning, USAID is uniquely poised to accelerate progress and improve education and access to reproductive health services for youth.  We support programs and research on adolescent health and development, and we have approaches that work to improve knowledge and change behaviors. Our programs focus on gender equality, because we know that boys and men who have access to reproductive health information and services are better able to protect their own health, support their partners, and participate in planning of their future and that of their families.

USAID is committed to protecting reproductive rights for all people and especially for the world’s adolescents and youth. Young people are the future, and we want and need their valued contributions to and participation in the social, economic, political, and cultural life of their communities.

Follow @USAIDGH on Twitter and join the conversation about World Population Day using the #WorldPopDay hashtag. Share our new infographic on adolescent pregnancy.