Welcome Remarks by UNFPA Representative at the Seminar on Investing in Teenage Girls

23 August 2016


Welcome Remarks by UNFPA Representative at the

Seminar on “Investing in Teenage Girls”

Jakarta, 22 August 2016


HE Prof Yohana Yambise, Minister of Women Empowerment & Child Protection

Distinguished Dr. Surya Chandra Surapaty – Chairperson of BKKBN

Distinguished Dr. Sony B. Harmadi – Special Advisor to the Coordinating Minister of Human Development and Culture

Ladies and Gentlemen


Good Morning, Selamat Pagi.

It is a real pleasure for me to represent UNFPA today and to partake in this seminar on Investing in Teenage Girls.


Just a few days ago, I read an article entitled “When Schoolgirls Become Mothers in Rural Indonesia”.  A 19-year old Widianti became a mother much younger than she anticipated. She met a University student in Yogyakarta during her vacation. She became pregnant after dating, was forced to marry and delivered a baby. She did not want to get pregnant nor marry so soon. But they were having intimate relations and they did not have any information on sexual and reproductive health nor on the prevention of unintended pregnancy, through contraception.


Widianti and her husband are not alone. There are many other teenage girls and boys in Indonesia, both unmarried and married, and both rural and urban, who are in a similar position.  Many of our teenage daughters and sons face this dilemma - especially when they are in high school and university, when they themselves are struggling with the new challenges of puberty and hormonal changes, living independently and contemplating their dreams.


In Indonesia, teenage fertility, as measured through age specific fertility rate, increased from 39 births per 1000 women aged 15-19 years in 2007 (IDHS), to 48 births in 2012 (IDHS), and to 49 births in 2015 (SUPAS, 2015). This figure is higher than the target of RPJMN 2014-2019 which is 39 births per 1000 women and shows a steady increase.


Child marriage and teenage fertility are deeply intertwined in Indonesia. I will never forget asking a wise and respected religious leader in Yogyakarta the rationale for not advocating to increase the age of marriage for girls in Indonesia, especially if there was interest in seeing them educated, contributing to their own development and the nation’s economic development. He explained to me that if families did not have the option of marrying off their daughters, who have fallen pregnant unintentionally, there will be shame on the family as they deal with their daughter’s pregnancy out of wedlock. Thus, maintaining the low legal age at marriage for girls at 16 years is a safety net for families.


As I reflected on this perspective, I asked myself while this is a safety net for the families, is it a safety net for the girls themselves? What would be the best option for the girls? This practice or belief may be contributing to the high child marriage rate in Indonesia. If we think about it, devoid of judgement of moral behaviour or fear of shame, unintended teenage pregnancy occurs because teenage girls, especially unmarried, don’t have access to appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and/or services to protect themselves.  By preventing young girls – unmarried and married - from important sexual and reproductive information and services, are we also contributing to their problem?


When teenage girls are able to access education and health information and services, including sexual and reproductive health, they can create opportunities for themselves to realize their potential and fulfil their dreams. They will be better positioned to manage their own future lives, and contribute to their family and society.


However, teenage girls in many countries, and in Indonesia, are still facing challenges, such as high child marriage and high teenage pregnancy, which contributes to them dropping out of school.


According to SUSENAS 2015, the majority (91 per cent) of women married before the age of 18 do not finish their high school education. With more education, girls will eventually have higher labour force participation, and better incomes, contributing to economic development.  


In keeping with the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals, investing in teenage girls, particularly marginalised girls, will ensure that noone are left behind.


With low education and low income, marginalised teenage mothers may also be prone to domestic violence.


UNFPA’s commitment is to enable young girls to reach their potential. 


We encourage the Government of Indonesia to invest in teenage girls in ways that empower them to make important life decisions like delaying marriage and pregnancy, in ways that allow them to equip themselves to one day earn a living, in ways that allow them to engage in the affairs of their communities and in ways that they can be on an equal footing with their male counterparts. Investments are needed to protect their health, including their sexual and reproductive health, to enable them to receive a quality education – thus keeping girls in school - and to expand their economic opportunities. Investing in teenaged girls will also accelerate the benefits of harnessing the demographic bonus. Investing in teenage girls makes sense.


This is my plea today, my plea that has brought me to engage with you today, my plea for all those girls who have suffered and who will suffer the indignity and shame of unintended pregnancies, the glares of their neighbours, the rejection of their families, and who have not lost all hope but continued to strive. Invest in education and health of teenage girls so that they can reach their dreams and soar…and as a result Indonesia will also soar.


Terima Kasih.

Tags: World Population Day