5 to 14 years

Improving the health of children and young people

Children in Burkina Faso

Older children, adolescents and young adults are at less risk of illness and death than newborns or the elderly.

However, the risk of people in this age group dying is much greater in certain countries and regions of the world than it is in Europe or North America. In 2016, for example, only one in 1,000 children aged between five and 14 died in Europe – in sub-Saharan Africa that figure was 19.

A total of some 900,000 children aged between five and 14 died in the course of 2017. Most of these deaths could have been prevented. Traffic accidents are the number one cause of adolescent deaths globally. Other leading causes of death in young people are infectious respiratory tract diseases, diarrhoea, suicide and drowning.

The risk of dying of an infectious disease is particularly high in developing countries, and complications during pregnancy and birth are one of the most frequent causes of death in women aged between 15 and 24. Mental health issues like depression cause many adolescent deaths the world over, too.

Young people – an important target group

Children over the age of five, adolescents and young adults generally have a lower risk of illness or even dying than other age groups. That is why protecting and promoting the health of young people is often a neglected issue.

That is a mistake, because promoting the health of young people is worth the effort. Never before have there been so many young people on this planet. Investing in the health of this generation will pay off and could have a positive impact on the health of the global population for many decades to come. That is why young people are an important target group of German development cooperation in the field of health.

Focus on sexual and reproductive health

Two girls in Rwanda discuss different methods of contraception.

Very many young people worldwide are exposed to the risk of unplanned, early pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexual violence.

Some facts and figures:

  • Teenage pregnancies are a serious threat to girlsʼ health. The risk is highest in developing countries, where 21 million girls aged between 15 and 19 and two million below the age of 15 fall pregnant every year. Fifteen per cent of all deaths in the group of 15- to 19-year-olds and 24 per cent of those aged between 20 and 24 are due to complications during pregnancy and birth.
  • Unwanted pregnancies are usually the result of a lack of access to comprehensive sex education and effective contraception. One of the consequences is that girls aged between 15 and 19 have an estimated 3.9 million unsafe abortions each year, exposing them to considerable health risks.
  • Teenage pregnancies not only pose a health risk, they often also stop young girls from getting any educational qualifications. That restricts their opportunities for social and economic participation and makes it difficult for them to lead a self-determined life. Child marriage is also a problem. Each year some 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
  • The lack of access to sex education and health services also increases the risk of contracting STIs like the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). About one third of the approximately 4,700 people who are newly infected with HIV every day are aged between 15 and 24. Girls and young women are more frequently affected than boys and young men. That is especially true in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where young women are at particular risk on account of a mix of biological and socio-cultural factors.
  • Young girls and women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. According to UNICEF estimates, one in 10 girls under the age of 20 has been forced to engage in sexual acts against her will. Young people with disabilities and girls and young women in fragile states or in regions of armed conflict are at particular risk.
  • There are many ways in which young peopleʼs sexual and reproductive rights are interfered with. Often they are justified on cultural grounds or based on tradition. Practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) are an especially serious problem. FGM is still a widespread practice in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. According to estimates, more than 200 million girls and women are affected.
  • Many countries restrict young peopleʼs independent access to sexual and reproductive health services: according to the WHO, in the period between 2010 and 2014 young people were not permitted to use family planning services in more than half of the 93 countries surveyed. In many countries the opportunities for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersex adolescents to develop a healthy sexual identity is limited due to legal, religious or cultural sanctions.

See also:

Germany actively involved at many levels

Prospective teachers inform their fellow students about the transmission of the HI virus.

German development cooperation is actively involved at many levels in protecting and promoting the health of young people, including in the education and health sectors, in their social environment (family, friends, community) and at the governmental level.

  • Education
    The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is particularly active in numerous partner countries when it comes to improving access to education. According to estimates, for every additional year that girls stay in school the number of children born to young women before they reach the age of 24 is measurably reduced. A better education also reduces the risk of HIV infection.
  • Sex education
    Comprehensive sex education has a key impact on young peopleʼs health. Studies show that age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education not only teaches young people more about and positive attitudes to sexual and reproductive health. It also helps to ensure that they start having sex later, have fewer sexual partners and take better precautions to protect themselves against STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Limiting sex education to calling for sexual abstinence is not effective.
  • Adolescent-friendly health services
    Legal, cultural and financial barriers make it hard for many adolescents in developing countries to access health services. That is why German development cooperation is committed to abolishing these barriers. The aim is to ensure that all adolescents have access to medical care and advice so that they can be given age-appropriate and professional support in the case of acute illness and so that they receive neutral and comprehensive advice on all the sensitive issues around sexuality and reproductive health.

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