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Girls are having sex: how can we help protect them?

Whether through individual choice, because they marry young or are victims of coercion and sexual violence, girls in the developing world are having sex without access to contraception.

According to a statement issued by Marie Stopes International on Sub-Saharan Africa: On the International Day of the Girl, we recognize and honour girls’ rights. But today is also about the enormous continuing challenges girls around the world face on a daily basis.

At Marie Stopes International we see day-to-day just how important it is that girls who want to use contraception are able to do so. However, in our experience, the barriers to access they face are far greater than for older women.

There are many challenges to breaking these down, but there are a great many initiatives that are making contraceptive access a reality for the next generation. Our work in Sierra Leone for example is making a real difference and a quarter of all our clients there are teenagers, compared with just 12% of all contraceptive users in the country.

Barriers to access

So what’s stopping girls from accessing contraception? Lack of knowledge is one of the biggest barriers. Our research for this year’s Global Impact Report, looked at which contraceptive methods different age groups are familiar with and the results were striking.

Communicating with youth

Making an informed choice is impossible without knowledge, which is why we are working so hard to open more effective channels of communications with young people. Our youth hotline in Timor Leste for example gives young men and women accessible, confidential information.

Confidentiality is vital. Our analysis also showed us that in sub-Saharan Africa, unmarried adolescent girls are far more likely to get their contraception from a friend or through a private pharmacy, than go to a public clinic, as is the norm for most women. We believe that this is partly because single girls worry about stigma and judgment which makes them feel uncomfortable using public clinics.

We place great emphasis on creating safe spaces that are confidential, non-judgmental and free from stigma for everyone. Many of our countries are developing opportunities for adolescent clients to be assured of confidentiality and supportive, non-discriminatory counseling, such as the dedicated youth corners in Marie Stopes Uganda clinics.

With so many girls still unable to access contraception, we are determined to build on the positive work we have seen in countries such as Sierra Leone. International Day of the Girl is the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the barriers girls face and reaffirm our commitment to breaking them down.


14 Million

There are over 14 million adolescent girls who want access to contraception, but do not have it. The consequences can be devastating.


The leading killers of girls aged 15-19 are pregnancy and childbirth; unintended pregnancy causes one in four girls to drop out of school in sub-Saharan Africa; and babies born to adolescent mothers are at higher risk of infant and child mortality.


Unmarried adolescent girls living in poverty have much lower levels of knowledge about their options than the average woman. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 13% had heard of IUDs and 27% knew about implants compared to 40% and 49% with the average woman.


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