A mother with her child at the Nhamatanda Health Center in Mozambique. / Arturo Sanabria, Photoshare

With close to 600 million girls growing up in developing countries, achieving global prosperity starts with educating and empowering these young women so they can be healthy, productive members of their communities and become agents of change.

This year’s World Population Day encourages us to “Invest in Teenage Girls.” Voluntary family planning is one tool that can both educate and empower young women worldwide.

Access to voluntary family planning and reproductive health services for everyone, including youth, is vital to the future of our planet. About half of pregnancies among adolescent women in the developing world are unintended, with about 23 million young women wishing to avoid pregnancy, but not using modern contraception. This puts them at high risk of unintended pregnancy.

As we observe World Population Day on July 11, we acknowledge that young people hold the key to determining the future of our planet and to ensuring we meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)17 goals focused on ending all forms of poverty, achieving social justice for all, and tackling climate change by 2030.

Voluntary family planning is an important intervention that cuts across the five themes of the SDGS: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.

A nurse shows a client an implant rod, and explains how it works during a family planning outreach at a Nairobi informal settlement. / Tobin Jones, Jhpiego

Voluntary family planning affects people. It supports adolescents’ rights to information, and the rights of girls to remain unmarried and childless until they they are ready and desire to bear children.

Family planning saves lives. Today, pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for adolescent women. By helping young women time and space their pregnancies, family planning helps reduce the number of high-risk pregnancies, and allows women to properly feed, clothe and educate the children they decide to have. Studies show that by 2020, family planning could help avert approximately 7 million under-5 deaths and prevent 450,000 maternal deaths in USAID’s priority countries.

A poster in a Sare Bilaly health hut in the region of Kolda, Senegal. / Amy Fowler, USAID

Family planning impacts the planet. Access to family planning can slow global climate change and improve the health and environment of households and communities worldwide, and research shows that it already has. A 2013 report warns: “poor reproductive health outcomes and population growth exist hand-in-hand with poverty and unsustainable natural resource use.”

Family planning helps reduce poverty and contributes to economic growth and prosperity. Nearly 21 percent of the world’s population—some 1.5 billion people—still live on less than $1.25 per day. By slowing rapid population growth, family planning can help to decrease the sheer number of poor people.

Reducing adolescent fertility can contribute to a “demographic dividend” of rapid economic growth. Having fewer children per family leads to more household savings and increased investments in each child. In Korea and Thailand, governments aligned population policy and family planning services with human capital development policies, particularly girls’ education, to accelerate economic growth.

Voluntary family planning can contribute to peace. Studies show that a large “youth bulge” (defined as a high number of 15- to 29-year-olds) is associated with a high risk of civil conflict. The political impact of fertility decline is measureable: Research shows as a country’s population ages, the probability of attaining and maintaining a liberal democracy is increased.

Worldwide, more than 30 million adolescent women are not in school. Early and unintended pregnancy can be both a cause and a consequence of dropping out of school, so family planning can help women and girls stay in school, become literate, and achieve their educational and employment aspirations. All of these outcomes lead to more peaceful communities and societies.


Health workers in Mali. / Jane Silcock, USAID

Family planning partnerships at the global and country level will be critical to achieving success as we work toward reaching a grand convergence between the developed and developing world in the next 15 years. As the largest bilateral donor for family planning assistance, USAID has played a crucial role in increasing access to modern contraception. And through our youth policy, USAID strives to integrate youth reproductive and sexual health needs into all of our programs and partnerships.

Young people today will decide our future. We need them to participate in the social, economic, political and cultural life of their communities to eliminate poverty and achieve our collective goals. We also need to recognize the diversity of need and experience of this age group when developing reproductive and sexual health programs and services. As we help youth to succeed, voluntary family planning will be an essential element of our long-term development strategies.


Ellen H. Starbird is the director of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at USAID. Get updates about USAID’s Family Planning work via @USAIDGH.