National Press Club

United Nations Population Fund deems Oct. 11 at International Day of the Girl Child

September 24, 2012 | By John M. Rosenberg |

The status of women is the major issue facing a great portion of the approximately 900 million young girls around the world today, said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, at Sept. 21 National Press Club Newsmaker.

Osotimehin recalled his time as Nigeria’s minister of health and seeing girls as young as 12 being placed into marriage. “This is not a Nigerian phenomenon, this is a phenomenon that happens across the world,” he said.

Osotimehin once visited a hospital in northern Nigeria and saw a young woman confronting great difficulty while in labor. She was clearly in need of a Caesarian; however, when he asked the hospital staff, he was told that the husband refused to pay for the services, preferring instead to abandon the woman and marry another.

The Fund has deemed Oct. 11, 2012, as the International Day of the Girl Child in order to call attention to the issue of child marriage. Osotimehin urged journalists to highlight these topics, saying,“The truth of the matter is that these are issues which we have to address, and address aggressively.”

Having begun operations in 1969, the United Nations Population Fund is currently working in over 50 countries, empowering young women to reach their full potential in the face of many obstacles such as the lack of family planning and various human rights concerns.

According to the organization, by the end of 2012 another 20 million girls worldwide will have been married off before they are adults. Such practices, along with ensuing pregnancy, results in the loss of potential for these young women and missed educational opportunities.

In addition to marriage and pregnancy issues there are concerns about genital mutilation. The Poulation Fund has been working with over 8000 communities, primarily in Africa and Asia, in order to stop this practice.

As an agency established to promoting health and equal opportunity, the Fund serves to advance the understanding of population dynamics such as rates of growth and decline in fertility, mortality and migration. Such criteria will influence everything from urbanization to climate change.

“Let us not forget that the world has an aging population,” Osotimehin said, adding that by the year 2050 there will be more people 65 years old than those aged 15. This trend will continue, not only in developed countries, but in the developing world, having profound implications on productivity, housing, social security and governance.

Even with these other concerns, the primary theme of the Fund will remain the empowerment of young women. “We must encourage, going forward, a world in which women and girls have empowerment and education so that they can participate, actively, in the development of their countries,” Osotimehin said.