There are 1.8 billion young people (males and females between the ages of 10 and 24) in the world today, the largest generation of young people in human history. The majority of these young people live in developing countries and approximately half, or 900 million, are adolescent girls and young women.
The U.N. International Day of the Girl Child (October 11) highlights the unique challenges adolescents and young girls (females between the ages of 10 and 19) continue to face in our world.
At every stage of development, girls are more likely than boys to confront a progression of disadvantages associated with violence and discrimination. Even with decades of laws, treaties, conferences, and resolutions at the local, national, regional, and international levels, the difficulties accompanying being young and female condemn millions of girls to the sidelines of society. There, girls remain mostly invisible, their human rights habitually abused and violated, and their welfare trailing behind that of boys.
Girls account for more than 80 percent of new HIV infections in adolescents in the worst hit countries with 380,000 adolescent girls infected with HIV every year; in other words, 7,300 every week, more than 1,000 every day. Moreover, HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of death for girls and women ages 15 to 49.
According to UNICEF, the face of HIV/AIDS is young and female. As we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child 2015, we say, “This must change.”
Tackling violence and discrimination faced by girls, and ensuring their access to the same basic opportunities as boys, is crucial to the realization of their basic human rights and achieving the UN’s “Sustainable Development Goals 2030.”
As the global community rallied to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 last month at the 2015 United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. government has made several exciting announcements with positive impacts for the girl child.
On September 26, National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice announced bold, new HIV prevention and treatment targets established by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). By the end of 2017, PEPFAR will support 12.9 million people on life-saving anti-retroviral treatment—nearly a doubling of people on treatment from 2013 to 2017—and provide 13 million male circumcisions for HIV prevention.
Specifically for the girl child, PEPFAR announced that the program is now investing nearly half a billion dollars to support an AIDS-free future for adolescent girls and young women. This includes strategically aligning $300 million in additional prevention investments in the Determined, Resilient, Empowered AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) partnership, launched in 2014 to support adolescent girls and young women living in the highest burdened areas of 10 sub-Saharan African countries. By 2017, PEPFAR hopes to reduce HIV incidence by 40 percent among this group.
On September 27, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry at the UN General Assembly echoed these announcements and they affirmed the U.S. government’s commitment to an AIDS-free generation.
On September 28, PEPFAR also made a $10 million contribution over three years to the Robert Carr Civil Society Networks Fund to build the capacity of civil society. Along with UNAIDS, PEPFAR will launch a new $4 million, two-year initiative to strengthen the capacity of faith communities to implement the most effective HIV prevention and treatment programs.
PEPFAR stands as the U.S. government’s initiative to save the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS around the world. This historic commitment is the largest by any nation to combat a single disease internationally. Since 2004, the year PEPFAR began in Nigeria, PEPFAR has disbursed more than $3.4 billion, or more than 675 billion Naira, to support the Nigeria HIV/AIDS response. PEPFAR investments also help alleviate suffering from other diseases across the global health spectrum. Driven by a shared responsibility among donor and partner nations, PEPFAR will continue to make smart investments to save the lives of Nigerian girls and others around the world afflicted by HIV/AIDS.