The theme of this year’s World Population Day, a United Nations initiative to focus attention on the urgency of population issues, is “Investing in Teenage Girls.”
One in three girls in the developing world will be married before the age of 18. One in nine will be married before the age of 15. Child marriage limits girl’s access to education, opportunity and autonomy, all of which decrease their ability to control their reproduction. Many of these girls will become pregnant while still in adolescence, leading to an increase risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Often pregnancy is not a choice, but an absence of choice.
These problems are exacerbated by a United States policy known as the Global Gag Rule, a prohibition on U.S. funding to any foreign aid organization or program that provides abortion services with its own money from non-U.S. governmental sources, implemented by the Reagan administration in 1984. The President has the power to rescind it, as was done by Clinton and Obama, or reinstate it, as was done by George W. Bush. This means the ability of international aid organizations to address the full spectrum of reproductive health needs is consistently kept in jeopardy by a U.S. policy that fails to understand the complexity of circumstances faced by girls around the globe.
The issue of reproductive autonomy among teenage girls is not a problem isolated to the developing world. The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. 30 percent (PDF) of teen girls in the United States will be pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday. 77 percent of these teen pregnancies are unplanned.
The Feminist Majority Foundation is committed to advocating for increased funding for family planning education and services, both at home and abroad, and during both Bush administrations actively campaigned for the repeal of the Global Gag Rule. In 2009, FMF supported passage of the single largest federal budget increase for international family planning and reproductive health programs.
There are 7.3 billion people in the world today, a number that has been growing at an alarming rate for the last 200 years, largely due to the increased number of people living to reproductive age. Combating this unsustainable growth requires providing young women and men with the knowledge and resources they need to control their reproductive futures.