Founder of the Liya Kebede Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador, Liya Kebede believes that: “When young girls become pregnant before they themselves have grown up, both they and their babies face an uphill battle to survive. The world loses the enormous potential of yet another generation of girls.” Liya’s words are backed up by significant evidence showing that older, healthier mothers have children who are also healthier, better nourished and more likely to go to school.
The full value of investing in SRHR has been underestimated as its wide ranging benefits have been largely unrecognised, particularly to society as a whole. The direct medical benefits of preventing unintended pregnancies, improving maternal health, and preventing, diagnosing and treating STIs including HIV/AIDS are well-known; however, the economic and social benefits are no less real, even if they are more difficult to measure. The global community cannot afford to not fully fund (or prioritise) these services to achieve global development goals.31 Fewer STIs means reduced infertility and the stigma associated with it and with HIV/AIDS.
Women who can successfully delay first pregnancy and plan the subsequent timing and spacing of their children are more likely than others to enter or stay in school, to have more opportunities for employment, and to have full social or political participation in their community. Improved maternal health means fewer orphans and more time for and a greater ability of mothers to care for and nurture their children. Older, better educated mothers have better nourished and healthier children, who are more likely to reach their potential.
At the societal level, services to support SRHR goals contribute significantly to a range of broader development goals, such as improving the status of women, contributing to economic growth and reducing poverty and inequality. Investing in adolescent girls’ SRHR will improve the well-being of a whole generation and contributes to a healthy and skilled workforce for economic development. Moreover, these investments consolidate gains made from child survival and primary education initiatives and reduce future demands on government budgets.
Many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) directly relate to young people’s health and development. Their ability to avoid HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancy, to stay in school, to find employment and to acquire necessary life skills will be crucial toward their countries’ achievement of the MDGs.32 Even more fundamentally, all young people regardless of background have the right to education and health, without discrimination, including the right to confidential, gender-sensitive, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.