How our future depends on a girl at this decisive age
How our future depends on a girl at this decisive age
My One Wish...To visit beautiful places in India and to visit America

She is 10 years old.Capable of rapidly absorbing wisdom and knowledge from those around her, she is poised to one day become an inspiring leader, a productive worker, an innovator, a caring parent or any of the other roles that power a thriving, dynamic society. She will shape the future of her community and our shared world.

A flurry of life-changing events pulls her in many directions. Where she ends up depends on the support she receives and the power she has to shape her own future.

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I'm 10!

I'm the face of
the future

At 10, a girl arrives at a vulnerable point in her life. She must negotiate a tricky transition to adulthood, with its rapid changes in body and brain, and dramatic shifts in family and social expectations. Although risks abound for both girls and boys, gender discrimination makes these worse for girls in almost every way. Public policies often focus on young children or older adolescents, failing to adequately manage the potential risks 10-year-old girls might face.

If her rights are not well protected, through appropriate laws, services and investments, the chance to bloom in adolescence and become a fully fledged adult forever slips away.

The world has already done well in many ways for the 10-year-old boy. It is past time to do equally well for the 10-year-old girl.

Picture a new world for the 10-year-old girl
Picture the 10-year-old girl in a world that truly values, nurtures and protects her. Instead of contracting, her options expand and diversify. In this world, people have agreed that her human rights in their entirety must be upheld, just as they are for her brother, and this is reflected in laws and legal practice as well as social norms. No one thinks she is ready for marriage or childbearing until she is at least 18. No one expects her to abandon school for paid work or household chores. She goes to a good school that is clean, safe and close to her home. She has enough nourishing food for her growing body and developing brain. She is protected and has the same opportunities as boys to explore the world around her, make friends and participate freely in social interactions.

Making this vision a reality
The world can realize this vision, and has agreed to do so through a set of international commitments known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Adopted by 193 countries at the United Nations in 2015, the 2030 Agenda represents a singular moment in the history of global consensus on development, applying to all countries—rich, poor and in-between. It charts a course of transformation, grounded firmly in human rights and the inclusion of all individuals, and aiming for sustainability so that resources used wisely now will remain on hand for future generations. Over the next 15 years, 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets will underpin the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.

For the first time in history, the 2030 Agenda explicitly commits countries to leaving no one behind as they seek to develop. This puts the world on notice that no 10-year-old girl can remain on the margins, abandoned to poverty, ill or ignorant.

Photo © UNFPA/Santosh Chhetri

Transforming Our World

In 2015, the world made an unprecedented commitment to people, prosperity and the planet. The historic 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, endorsed by over 150 world leaders, aims to end all forms of poverty and discrimination. It seeks to transform how we live, where all people enjoy rights and dignity.

UNFPA is already playing a leadership role on Goals related to poverty, health, education and gender equality. Attaining the Goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health services supports the freedom of every girl and woman to seek an education, find decent work and contribute even more to her family, community and nation.

  • 1. No Poverty

    The first Goal commits to halving the share of people of all ages who suffer any of the major dimensions of poverty.

    UNFPA supports sexual and reproductive health services that help girls expand their economic options.

  • 3. Good Health And Well-Being

    The third Goal commits to reducing global maternal death to less than 70 per 100,000 births.

    UNFPA helps countries develop public policies and services that keep girls healthy.

  • 4. Quality Education

    The fourth Goal calls for ensuring, by 2030, that education is free, equitable and of high quality.

    UNFPA works with countries to promote investments in education and opportunities for girls.

  • 5. Gender Equality

    The fifth Goal seeks to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls. Violence against them must stop.

    UNFPA works to eliminate harmful practices and their consequences.

An estimated 125 million 10-year-olds are alive today. Of these, just over 60 million are girls, and 65 million are boys.

Where are today’s 10-year-olds?
The typical 10-year-old today lives in a developing country. Almost 9 in 10 of them— 89 per cent—live in less developed regions of the world, with half in Asia and the Pacific, including China and India. One in five lives in the 48 countries defined by the United Nations as least developed (34 in sub-Saharan Africa, 13 in Asia and the Pacific, and one in Latin America and the Caribbean), where the challenges to the fulfilment of their potential are the greatest and the institutions to support them are the weakest.

About 35 million of today’s 10-year-old girls live in countries with high levels of gender inequality, measured by a Gender Inequality Index.

The lives of 10-year-olds today
Almost six in 10 girls live in countries where gender norms and practices place them at a significant disadvantage, both at their current 10 years of age and as they grow older. Relative to their brothers, these girls are less likely to stay in school, more likely to be engaged in child labour, more likely to be married before they turn 18, more likely to experience intimate partner violence, more likely to suffer from complications related to pregnancy and childbearing, and less likely to have a substantive say in household decisions, including about their schooling or health care. The implications of these patterns for such girls may be profound, with further impacts that extend to families, communities and even countries.

We are 10!

Whether we live in developing or developed countries, cities, villages or refugee camps, or come from rich or poor households, we all have hopes and dreams for the future. But, we will face different challenges on our journey to adulthood.

Take a glimpse into our lives and aspirations.



Each morning before going to school in the village of Noyakata, Aditi does her homework. After school, she takes care of her younger sister while her mother works. Her favourite food is hilsha fish. She and her school friend Shumi like to read books together. She hopes to go to college one day.

All photos of Aditi: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Zakir Chowdhury



Daline, who lives in Yaoundé, is about to start her first year of secondary school and is bilingual in English and French. She assists in looking after her two brothers and helps out at home for an hour a day by sweeping the compound and the veranda. Her favourite meal is water fufu and eru. She and her best friend Anais like to take walks together or play cards and Scrabble.

All photos of Daline: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Adrienne Surprenant



Hiba, originally from Syria, now lives in the Za’atari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, with her mother, three sisters and two brothers. Her favourite food is mutabaka, a dish of eggplant and tomatoes. She takes care of her younger sister and brother during the day, while her mother and older sister campaign against child marriage in the camp. She also likes to play hide-and-seek with her friends. She wants one day to go to college.

All photos of Hiba: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Maria de la Guardia



Ingeborg lives in Oslo with her mother and father close to her school. She began reading and writing when she was about 4 years old. She likes to spend time with her friend and to play Pokemon with her younger brother. She also takes ballet lessons, goes slalom skiing in Italy in winter and wants to take up free diving.

All photos of Ingeborg: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Sigrid Bjorbekkmo


United States

Isabelle lives with her parents and younger sister in a house in Cabin John, Maryland. She is in the fourth grade and wants to one day go to college. Her favourite meal is dinner because it means she can sometimes have chicken. She and her friends like to play hide-and-seek, tag and board games.

All photos of Isabelle: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Ruaridh Connellan



Ortilia has four brothers and five sisters and lives in Chisec. When she returns home from school, she helps around the home and takes care of her younger siblings. She loves reading stories, proverbs and riddles and would like to go to university one day. She likes to play with her four best friends. She also attends a skills-building programme for girls.

All photos of Ortilia: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Daniele Volpe



Rosita, her parents, sister and three brothers live in Peshkopi. She is in the fourth grade and plans to attend university after finishing high school. Her favourite food is rice because it smells so good when it cooks. In addition to doing her homework every day, she spends about two hours helping out at home. She likes to play ball and other games with her friend Kristina.

All photos of Rosita: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Nake Batev



Samantha lives with her parents and 5-year-old brother Guilherme in Ceilândia, outside Brasilia in a small house; her grandmother lives in the adjoining house. Samantha is a gifted student who has already won four awards for her achievements. She hopes to go to college. Her favourite foods are rice, beans, steak and fries. She and her friend Ingrid play together almost every day.

All photos of Samantha: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Bento Viana



Temawelase, a sixth-grader in a rural community in the Hhohho region, has four siblings. Her favourite food is rice because it gives her energy. When she is not at school, she helps with housework, takes care of a younger sibling or skips rope or plays hula hoops with her friend Notsile. She also attends a programme that equips young girls with information about their health and well-being. She is planning on attending university.

All photos of Temawelase: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Mark Lewis

Tuong Anh

Viet Nam

Tuong Anh is in the fourth grade. She lives in Hanoi with her parents and three brothers, ages 11, 12 and 16. She helps out around the house whenever she has time. Her mother told her she has to study hard if she wants to go to university one day. She wants to get married, but only after she finishes her education, and wants to have one or maybe two children.

All photos of Tuong Anh: UNFPA/Barcroft Media/Quinn Ryan Mattingly

There is some cause for optimism about the future for these 10-year-olds.

The past two decades have also seen extremely rapid changes in the proportions of children attending school; dramatic declines in maternal, neonatal, and infant deaths; and a slow transition to greater gender equality. If these improvements continue and we collectively invest in developing this cohort in ways that allow them to maximize their potential, 10-year-olds may well prove pivotal to transforming the world for the better.

Photo: © UNFPA/Ollivier Girard

My Challenges

The obstacles on my path
to adulthood

The obstacles faced by a 10-year-old girl vary in type and intractability around the world. But no matter the place, there are walls that disadvantage her compared with boys, and these walls will only grow taller as she does.

Increased risks and vulnerabilities
The start of a 10-year-old girl’s journey to adulthood is fraught with risks and vulnerabilities. In some parts of the world, when a girl reaches 10, she is deemed ready for marriage. When a girl is married, she will likely be taken out of school. And as soon as she goes through puberty, she may be expected to begin bearing children. Her genitals may be forcibly mutilated as a rite of passage. Without an education or autonomy, she may spend the rest of her life in poverty.

Impediments to health and well-being
The health attitudes, attributes and behaviours that are developed and cemented during adolescence, which begin at age 10, will define a girl’s health outcomes throughout her life. Positive choices during this critical period in a girl’s life, and access to youth-friendly health services, have lifelong effects.

While roughly one third of females directly experience violence, its threat is ubiquitous. The threat of violence affects all girls, informing their choices and constraining their potential.

Violence towards 10-year-old girls is also expressed through harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, as well as gender-based violence, coerced sex and psychological abuse, including bullying and harassment (Chong et al., 2006).

Limited access to education
Even though education is a right shared by all, girls are not in school at the same rates as boys across the globe, and are more likely than boys never to enrol in school.

About 62 million adolescent girls around the world are not in school today. When a girl is not enrolled, or is pulled out of school, her rights are violated and her future options are limited.

Out-of-school girls are less likely to have access to comprehensive sexuality education and life-skills courses, where they might learn about their bodies and about gender and power relations, as well as communication and negotiation skills.

Out-of-school children of primary school age by region and sex, 2000 to 2014

Data source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Out-of-school adolescents of lower secondary school age by region and sex, 2000 to 2014

Data source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Uneven protection of human rights
For a 10-year-old girl, legal obstacles likely started for her at birth. According to UNICEF, 230 million children under the age of 5 lack a birth certificate, overwhelmingly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Without a birth certificate, a child—girl or boy— will later in life face difficulties in enrolling in school, accessing health and other social services, securing a job and inheriting property.

A 10-year-old girl who does not know her rights is unable to assert them, whether at home, in the classroom or on the street.

Enforcement and accountability are always the true test of a right—for a 10-year-old girl or anyone else. Even if a girl knows her rights and attempts to voice them, the likely scenario is that she will be quashed by parents, her spouse or a state justice system that does not take her rights seriously. This is the case for the 10-year-old for whom a judge allows a marriage to proceed, whom a parent or spouse forbids going to school, or who receives no protection from a police officer in cases of spousal or parental violence.

Economic obstacles
Whether she lives in a developing or developed country, a 10-year-old girl today is more likely than her brother to shoulder the burden of domestic duties and unpaid work needed to keep the household functioning. For many girls, this will be the sole or primary form of labour for their lifetime, making them poorer—for longer—than male counterparts.

Looking outside the home, gender bias and other obstacles continue to present challenges for girls’ economic participation. Many youth workforce development programmes focus on male-dominated fields and do not take deliberate and sufficient steps to include girls, such as by conducting direct outreach to girls, providing transportation to ensure safety or targeting parents with messages about why their daughters should participate. Further complicating matters, much of the data on youth workforce development have not been disaggregated by sex to determine gender- related impacts.

These obstacles to economic empowerment and autonomy conspire to trap a 10-year-old girl in poverty for the rest of her life and prevent her from enjoying other human rights.

My Opportunities

Supporting me today
for a better tomorrow for all

Countries that choose to develop policies and institutions to build a 10-year-old girl’s human capital through quality education and access to health information and services stand to realize major economic gains. Those that choose to do little or nothing to tear down barriers standing in the way of a girl’s realizing her full potential will experience significant impediments to economic growth and development.

Reaping a demographic dividend
Many developing countries are undergoing a dramatic demographic transition that begins with falling infant and child death rates, due largely to improvements in health care, nutrition and sanitation. In the years that follow, fertility rates fall as couples realize that the reduced risk of child death means that it is easier for them to achieve their desired family size with fewer births. Rates also fall as these couples choose to use modern contraception.

The result of this demographic transition is a population structure in which there is a greater number of working-age adults in relation to children or older people who depend on them. “Working-age” generally refers to people aged 15 to 64.

When the right policies and institutions are in place to build young people’s human capital, a developing country can see dramatic economic growth associated with this increase in the working-age share of its population, leading to a demographic dividend, a unique opportunity for economic progress and poverty reduction.

The demographic dividend can account for an estimated two percentage points of annual growth in income per capita. The economic boost is magnified over time because gains are compounded. However, the economic gains associated with a demographic dividend are not automatic. Reaping higher levels of income depends in part on the human capital development of the younger population. Young people who are healthy and educated as they reach working age have the potential to be more productive than peers who are not. Productivity also depends on access to employment and capital. Realizing a demographic dividend therefore also depends on the effective operation of labour and capital markets, institutions and policy.

Photo © UNFPA/Fahmia Al-Fotih

Demographic dividend: how it works

A demographic dividend is the potential for economic growth that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure when the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) expands relative to the non- working-age population (14 and younger, and 65 and older).

  • The Demographic Dividend

    As a country transitions from high mortality and fertility to low mortality and fertility, a young, working-age population emerges and can propel economies forward.

    © UNFPA/Live Images
  • Pre-Transition

    High Mortality High Fertility
    Key Investments To
    reduce child mortality through
    • Childhood vaccinations
    • Primary health
    • Sanitation
    • Safe drinking water

    When child mortality rates are high, fertility also tends to be high, resulting in a very young age structure.

    © UNFPA/Matthias Mugisha
  • Early Transition

    Reduced Mortality High Fertility
    Key Investments To
    empower girls, give them choices through
    • Secondary education
    • Comprehensive sexuality education
    • Access to sexual and reproductive health information, services and supplies, including contraceptives

    When more children survive, parents choose to have fewer children. Population age structure shifts.

    © UN Viet Nam/Aidan Dockery
  • Late Transition

    Reduced Mortality Low Fertility
    Key Investments To
    spur economic growth, expand employment of young people through
    • Macroeconomic management
    • Open trade
    • Good governance
    • Well-functioning labour and financial market

    The size of the working-age population grows while the share of young dependent population shrinks.

    © UNFPA Zimbabwe-Stewart Muchapera
  • Demographic Dividend Realized

    • When young people are healthy and educated and equipped to seize opportunities
    • When more resources are available for productive investment
    • When per capita incomes and standards of living rise
    • When poverty is reduced
    © UNFPA/Abraham Gelaw

The 10-year-old girl's potential
Investments in a 10-year-old girl’s health—and the health of girls and women of all ages—are crucial to economic growth: healthier girls grow up to become healthier women who are more productive workers.|t

The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that policies promoting better health, education and labour-force participation for women—as well as being worthy ends in themselves—can contribute to healthier, better educated and more prosperous families and nations.

So how do today’s 10-year-old girls fit into this equation?

The first challenge is to make sure that a 10-year-old girl is in school and stays in school until she finishes secondary education.

Some ways to increase girls’ school-completion rates:

• Conditional cash transfers
• Competitive scholarships
• Vocational training
• Labour-market role models
• Transportation
• Encouragement

Comprehensive sexuality education is another vital intervention, particularly for a 10-year-old girl, who has just begun her journey through adolescence and who will soon go through puberty.

In 2014, India launched a national adolescent health strategy initiative, which helps expand adolescents’ access to information and services. Adolescents as young as 10 have access to peer support, mental and reproductive health services, and medical care for survivors of gender-based violence.

Norway makes age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education available to more than 100,000 primary- and secondary-school students on the sixth week of every year.

Demographic dividend in action

How will investments in 10-year-old girls play out in the real world? What do girls and countries stand to gain or lose?

Imagine a girl, who, like her country, is at a pivotal point in her life and development, and consider the different paths her future might take over the next 15 years.

This girl, Gayatri, is 10 and lives with her parents, grandparents, two brothers, and sister in a village in India. Her parents completed primary school and are now agricultural workers. The household has little disposable income after paying for food, housing, clothing and medical expenses. Depending on the support she receives, Gayatri may have two very different futures ahead of her.

One Girl
Two Paths

Her tomorrow depends on making the right investments today.


Thanks to a conditional cash transfer programme, Gayatri’s parents have a financial incentive to make sure she attends school regularly; the family is able to use the extra money for food and school supplies for the children. Gayatri also learns about a competitive secondary school scholarship that will be offered to girls from her village. She decides to study hard for the exams—her parents and teachers are supportive. Gayatri also begins to attend a community programme for girls, where she starts to learn about reproductive health—including puberty, pregnancy, contraceptive use and sexually transmitted infections—decision-making and life skills.
  • AGE10
    Thanks to a conditional cash transfer programme, Gayatri’s parents have a financial incentive to make sure she attends school regularly; the family is able to use the extra money for food and school supplies for the children. Gayatri also learns about a competitive secondary school scholarship that will be offered to girls from her village. She decides to study hard for the exams—her parents and teachers are supportive. Gayatri also begins to attend a community programme for girls, where she starts to learn about reproductive health—including puberty, pregnancy, contraceptive use and sexually transmitted infections—decision-making and life skills.
    Gayatri’s parents warn that, although secondary school will be tuition-free, expenses for books, uniforms and related items will be higher than those associated with primary school. Although her parents would like all of their children to attend secondary school, they realize that this may not be possible. Because they believe that Gayatri’s brothers will have better employment prospects, they prioritize their sons’ education over that of their daughters.
  • AGE11
  • AGE12
    Gayatri qualifies for the scholarship and progresses to the local secondary school.
    Gayatri leaves school after completing her primary education. She has fewer opportunities to access safe spaces outside the home or connect with peers.
  • AGE13
  • AGE14
  • AGE15
    Gayatri continues to build support from peers and gain agency.
    Having left school, Gayatri weds a 20-year-old man from a neighbouring village in a marriage arranged by her family and that of the young man. Gayatri’s parents are especially keen on the match because the groom’s family is not asking for a dowry, which will considerably ease the financial burden on Gayatri’s family.
  • AGE16
    Amid pressure from her in-laws to have children shortly after marriage, Gayatri gives birth to her first child. The pregnancy is difficult and takes a toll on her health.
  • AGE17
  • AGE18
    Gayatri completes secondary school and finds work as a data entry clerk at a small firm in a nearby town. Acting on the advice of a co-worker, she opens a bank account and begins making regular deposits.
  • AGE19
    Gayatri gives birth to her second child.
  • AGE20
  • AGE21
    With the approval of her family, Gayatri chooses to marry a 23-year-old man from a neighbouring village. In part because of the income she is bringing in, she feels confident in expressing her opinion and making household decisions. Because of the reproductive and sexual health education she received as a young adolescent, she is also able to confidently discuss delaying childbearing with her husband, countering family pressures to have her first child immediately after getting married. She succeeds in practising contraception to delay her first pregnancy until she and her husband become better acquainted with each other and their finances are more secure.
    Gayatri works intermittently as an unskilled labourer to help support her family, but work is generally inconsistent because of her household responsibilities.
  • AGE22
  • AGE23
    Gayatri gives birth to her first child; she takes some time off work to care for the baby, but plans to return. She and her husband would like to have another child, but decide not to do so for at least another two or three years.
    Gayatri, pregnant with her third child, wants to discuss birth control options with her husband, but he expresses disapproval. Worried that he may become violent, she does not bring it up again.
  • AGE24
  • AGE25
    Although her daughter is still very young, Gayatri, now working again, hopes to be able to provide her with an education that is at least as good as the one she had.
    Gayatri is now the mother of three children, and household finances are tight, just as they were in her parents’ house when she was a child. Her oldest child, a 9-year-old girl, attends primary school. Gayatri hopes that she will be able to give her daughter the continued education that she was unable to have, but is worried that this will be impossible, both because of money and because her household will increasingly rely on their daughter to help with the household chores and with the younger children.
2016 2030


Gayatri’s parents warn that, although secondary school will be tuition-free, expenses for books, uniforms and related items will be higher than those associated with primary school. Although her parents would like all of their children to attend secondary school, they realize that this may not be possible. Because they believe that Gayatri’s brothers will have better employment prospects, they prioritize their sons’ education over that of their daughters.

Even though Gayatri is not a real person, she is representative of tens of millions of girls in India and low- and middle-income countries the world over. And while every girl in every country has unique circumstances, potential and challenges, it is possible to make informed predictions about what each stands to lose or to gain.

With the additional earnings expected through path 1, Gayatri will be able to save money as a fallback for future emergencies, to help support parents and grandparents, or to invest in education for herself or her children—this is made easier by the fact that she has fewer children than in path 2. In addition, in path 1, Gayatri’s children are more likely to be healthier and better educated than if Gayatri had not benefited from these initial investments in her human capital, kicking off a virtuous cycle and allowing her family to escape poverty.

How does Gayatri’s story—and her potential gains in income—add up on the national level?

Today’s 10-year-old girls have the power to shape the future and improve the health and prosperity of their countries. This power can be greatly magnified with investments in these girls’ education, empowerment and well-being.

Developing country governments, as well as non-governmental and multilateral organizations, must make investments in girls an urgent priority. They must also commit to increasing the presence, visibility and agency of women and girls in the public spheres of school and work, and to dismantle the patriarchal systems that confine them exclusively to the home.

Inherent in each 10-year-old girl—like Gayatri and her sisters around the world— is the potential to unlock the power of a generation.

Photo: © UNFPA/Augusto Semente

My Potential

Igniting my potential

The crossroads of age 10 symbolizes not just a juncture in a girl’s life, but in a nation’s. Much of what this adolescent will accomplish and achieve, and have the capacity to contribute in his or her lifetime, is determined at this point. Thus, it is imperative that policies and programmes are in place to support 10-year-olds as they begin their journey to adulthood.

Quality education, age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services, an end to child marriage, programmes to prevent and address gender-based violence and adequate nutrition will all play roles in improving a 10-year-old’s prospects for the future.

Investing now in programmes and institutions that support 10-year-old girls is smart not only because it will increase the chances that girls will realize their full potential, but also because such investments will eliminate the need to address insidious problems, such as poverty, exclusion and chronic illness, as girls reach adulthood.

Educating girls has been described as the “world’s best investment” because it increases economic opportunity for women and girls, increases a nation’s productivity and economic growth and leads to a cycle of healthier, better educated children.

Research has shown that education yields the highest return when it is attained to secondary or tertiary levels. Studies have identified about a 10 per cent increase in wages later in life per additional year of schooling, with evidence revealing slightly higher returns for women at 11.7 per cent versus 9.6 per cent for men. The higher the level of education, the greater the return. At the secondary level alone, studies have identified links between secondary education and higher wages, increased national income, smaller more sustainable families, reduced inequalities and a reduction in severe poverty.

There are also links between increased education and HIV reduction; recent studies have shown that the HIV disease burden predominantly falls on the less educated. According to UNAIDS, evidence has shown that the more educated girls are, the better equipped they will be later in life to make decisions about their bodies, and the better able they will be to implement protective measures, such as using condoms.

Evidence has shown that the more years of education an adolescent girl receives, the later she is likely to marry and begin childbearing.

Photo: © UNFPA/Margret Masanga

What I Want To Be When I Grow Up

I want to be a math teacher

Protecting girls from harmful practices

Every day, an estimated 47,700 girls are at risk of being married before age 18.

In some parts of the world, a girl who begins menstruating may soon be married against her will. Protecting a girl from child marriage requires interventions that reach her before age 10—before puberty, when vulnerability to this harmful practice accelerates.

The International Center for Research on Women evaluated 23 child marriage-prevention programmes and found that the initiatives that fostered information, skills and networks for girls yielded the strongest and consistent results. Programmes that had the least impact on reducing child marriage were those that attempted to address the problem only at a macro-level, by, for example, changing laws.

A body of evidence is emerging that programmes that help poor girls stay in school and protect their health help reduce the incidence of child marriage. Results show that girls in communities with education, gender- and rights-awareness and skills training intervention programmes are less likely to be married.

Girls around the world are also vulnerable to sexual, physical and psychological violence in and around schools, and in public spaces. Action to prevent gender-based violence— and to make it safer for girls to attend school— must encompass prevention and response activities and “whole-of school” approaches that involve students, parents, teachers, community members and local organizations in finding solutions.

Tearing down barriers to gender equality
Empowering 10-year-olds socially and economically benefits girls themselves and has the potential to transform their communities. But empowerment requires tearing down the numerous and complex barriers to equality and changing negative attitudes.

Men and boys can be important allies and supporters of girls’ empowerment. Engaging them in programmes that promote gender equality can therefore contribute to lasting change.

Programmes that recognize that gender roles and relations are intertwined with cultural, religious, economic, political and social circumstances are more likely to have a positive impact. They are based on the idea that gender relations are not static and can be changed.

Scale up
Through small-scale and pilot efforts around the world, 10-year-old girls have gained access to services and support that have helped build their human capital, skills, agency and autonomy. These attributes in turn have helped delay marriage and pregnancy and keep them on a safe and healthy path to adulthood.

At the same time, community-level actions aimed at promoting gender equality, and local and national efforts to prevent and address gender-based violence have begun to yield positive results.

The challenge now is to scale up and adapt successful interventions so that they reach more girls in more places and effect change in more communities.

Julia, age 10, from Belarus, explains gender equality.

My Future

Where will I be
in 15 years?

By 2030, the world could be a dramatically different place for a 10-year-old girl.

If the United Nations goals for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development are achieved in 15 years, every 10-year-old will have every opportunity to be healthy, protected and in school. She would not be married or mutilated against her will. Her rights would be upheld in the law and fully supported through broad social consensus.

She would no longer be left far behind the 10-year-old boy.

Photo: © Panos Pictures/Tommy Trenchard

10 Essential Actions for the 10-year-old girl

  • 1


    Stipulate legal equality for girls, backed by consistent legal practice.

  • 2


    Ban all harmful practices against girls, and make 18 the minimum marriage age.

  • 3


    Provide safe, high-quality education that fully upholds gender equality in curricula, teaching standards and extracurricular activities.

  • 4


    In working towards universal health care, institute a 10-year-old mental and physical health check-up for all girls.

  • 5


    Provide universal comprehensive sexuality education when puberty begins.

  • 6


    Institute a rigorous and systematic focus on inclusion, acting on all factors rendering girls vulnerable to being left behind.

  • 7


    Track and close investment gaps in young adolescent girls.

  • 8


    Mobilize new funds for mental health, protection and reducing unpaid work that constrains options for girls.

  • 9


    Use the 2030 Agenda data revolution to better track progress for girls, including on sexual and reproductive health.

  • 10


    Engage girls, boys and all the people around them in challenging and changing gender discriminatory norms.

In 2030, today’s 10-year-old girl will be 25. In 15 years, as an empowered young woman, she could change the world. But she should not have to. It is up to the world to change for her.

In the 2030 Agenda, almost all countries have agreed to transform development so that it includes everyone and avoids destroying the planet that we all share, including with future generations.

We have every reason to put the 10-year-old girl at the very centre of all elements of this process. This is her right. It will be essential to inclusive development that leaves no one behind. And it will yield major social and economic dividends that benefit everyone.

Photo: © UNFPA/Alvo Ofumane

We are 10.And there are 60 million more of us counting on your support so we can thrive.
It’s our right.

Viet Nam
United States
Costa Rica
Burkina Faso


State of World Population 2016

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