In many places around the world, adolescent girls never receive health information or services. Often, girls cannot afford to see a doctor or need to travel long distances to reach a clinic for care.

The facts

  • Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million – women alive today were married before the age of 15.
  • Girls and young women 15–24 years old in sub-Saharan Africa are twice as likely as young men to be living with HIV, and yet in the same region, only 28% of girls and young women have knowledge about how to protect themselves from HIV.
  • Maternal mortality is the second leading cause of death of girls aged 15-19. Nearly 14 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 give birth each year.
  • Girls are more than twice as likely as boys to travel far distances to fetch drinking water. Globally, girls and women spend an estimated 200 million hours every single day collecting water.

Girl Up and the United Nations

Girl Up works with United Nations to improve adolescent girls’ health by ensuring that they have access health information and services that are designed for them. This includes education on nutrition, HIV prevention, and information on sexual and reproductive health. Proper nutrition and clean water are important to make sure that adolescent girls stay healthy and are aware of what their bodies need. Regular check-ups and health information can have a huge impact on a girl’s life, and can even affect the well-being of her children. Access to health information helps girls thrive.


Girl Up is supporting the expansion of proven, impactful UN programs that provide access to health information and services to rural, indigenous adolescent girls in Guatemala. This is particularly important given that nearly half of 20-24 year old young women in Guatemala are mothers by the age of 20, and by their early 30’s, many women have given birth to seven or eight children. Health information not only helps women and girls, but also helps their children. The program includes training adolescent girl leaders to be peer health educators so that they can teach others about health and nutrition, and about the prevention of domestic violence, teen pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, the program will provide training for healthcare workers on how to supply culturally relevant and comprehensive health care to adolescent girls.


Malawi has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, and girls are four times more likely to be HIV positive than boys. In addition, girls face high rates of child marriage and teen pregnancy in Malawi. Girl Up is supporting the UN’s work in Malawi to improve adolescent girls’ access to health information and services, including sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention. In Malawi, less than a quarter of girls finish elementary schools, which means that providing health information at schools only reaches a small percentage of adolescent girls. Therefore, UN health education programs are facilitated through life skills education centers and at youth-friendly health clinics. 


In Ethiopia, a country where almost half of all girls are married by the age of 15, Girl Up helped delay child marriage and promote girls’ education for more than 11,000 girls in the Amhara region through the Berhane Hewan program. Girls participating in this program are less likely to be married before they are 18, and are more likely to stay in school and be educated on sexual and reproductive health. Girl Up has expanded support to some of the most marginalized girls in Ethiopia by supporting a UNHCR program for Somali refugee girls who are living in refugee camps in eastern Ethiopia. UNHCR is providing girls with private toilets and access to water in order to keep their learning environment safe and healthy. With Girl Up’s support, UNHCR is making sure that girls in the refugee camps have the chance to stay active and healthy, by creating recreational facilities and distributing sports equipment in the camps. 


Liberia is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, and the 14-year civil war destroyed important infrastructures such as the healthcare system. Although the country is rebuilding, adolescent health services are still lacking and have had a devastating impact on adolescent girls. In 2008, the adolescent birth rate for girls ages 15-19 was the second highest in the world. Girl Up works with the UN and local partners to improve health services for adolescent girls, and to  train health workers and peer-educators on reproductive health, HIV prevention, maternal mortality, as well as provide psychosocial support and counseling. The UN is also working with the Ministry of Health to develop a national strategy on adolescent reproductive health, and is standardizing training curricula for health professionals.


As one of the most populated countries in the world, India has struggled with a lack of infrastructure, especially in its rural regions. Some challenges include poor sanitation, a shortage of health supplies and clinics, and a lack of awareness on health issues, especially sexual and reproductive health.  Adolescent girls are particularly affected. Because girls often lack information related to maternal health, puberty, and other important issues, many experience early pregnancies, sexually transmitted disease, and psychological and physical harm. Girl Up supports UNFPA’s Action for Adolescent Girls Initiative in one of India’s most populated regions, Rajasthan. The initiative is working to promote better health standards for girls living in the region by providing services and information on maternal health to married adolescent girls who are 15-19 years old.  One goal is to help girls delay giving birth until their bodies are ready.