Teenage girls are an extra vulnerable group in conflicts and natural disasters. They risk getting married and being abused or trafficked. Yet they are often forgotten in humanitarian aid. The International Rescue Committee and Plan International Sweden therefore call on the Swedish government to make specific initiatives for teenage girls in crisis and conflict.
When a girl becomes a teenager, her world shrinks, her choices become fewer and her vulnerability greater. Dealing with the challenges of adolescence is even more difficult for the more than 500 million teenage girls living in crisis-stricken countries. This is because crisis and conflict destroy societies and social structures and lead to families being split up or forced to flee. In these situations, teenage girls are extra vulnerable.
We know that the proportion of child marriages among Syrians is four times higher now than before the war broke out. In Nigeria, teenage girls have been used as sex slaves by Boko Haram and when they return to their communities they are frozen out, while their opportunities for education are limited. After the Ebola outbreak in West Africa told 10 percent of children aged 7-18 years that girls who had lost relatives were forced to have sex in exchange for food, housing and other services. All this indicates that conflict, flight and poverty pose great dangers to teenage girls.
Teenage girls end up between the chairs
Despite this, humanitarian aid efforts often miss the special needs of teenage girls for, for example, protection against psychological, physical and sexual violence or the lack of access to a future income. Efforts aimed at women do not take into account that reality looks different depending on how old you are and programs aimed at children do not differentiate between boys 'and girls' special needs and vulnerability or take sufficient account of age differences. That's why teenage girls often end up between the chairs - they are too young for interventions aimed at women and too old for interventions aimed at children.
The attempts made to respond to girls' needs are often uncoordinated and do not take into account the specific challenges of teenage girls. In addition, the funding comes from different sectors, which makes it difficult to work holistically. This in turn means that the few programs aimed at teenage girls often fail to see how different areas are connected and that a broad approach is needed if one wants to do something for girls' human rights.
Right to school and self-determination
A teenage girl has the right to go to school and to feel safe on the way to and from school and after completing her education she has the right to a job. She has the right to decide for herself if and when she is to marry or have children and receive support for her sexual and reproductive health and rights. She also has the right to decide over her own future, to be protected from sexual abuse and to receive help and care if she has been subjected to violence.
It is the responsibility of politicians and humanitarian leaders to address the specific challenges girls face and ensure that their rights are respected, but the efforts made today are far from sufficient and do not succeed in addressing the needs of teenage girls in a cohesive and holistic way.
Specific investments are needed
In Sweden's feminist foreign policy and action plan, important commitments are made to girls' needs in crisis and conflict. But we believe that the Swedish government can do even more when it comes to putting the action plan into practice.
The International Rescue Committee and Plan International Sweden therefore call on the Swedish government to - as part of its efforts to prevent violence against women and girls in crisis and conflict - initiate, develop and test specific initiatives to meet the specific needs of teenage girls in crisis and conflict. These initiatives must be based on a holistic approach where one sees the connections between the different risks that a teenager faces. In addition, we want to encourage Sweden to earmark funding to strengthen support for teenage girls in humanitarian situations and thereby give them the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Our respective organizations will work hard for the world's teenage girls and hope that the Swedish government joins.
Mariann Eriksson, Secretary General, Plan International Sweden
Agnes Björn, Humanitarian Director, Plan International Sweden
Melanie Ward, Head of Policy and Advocacy, International Rescue Committee
Diana Trimino, Policy Adviser for Women and Girls' Rights, International Rescue Committee