(September 2000) With more young people on earth than ever before, the sexual and reproductive lives of today’s young women will have a dramatic effect on the health, prosperity, and size of the world’s future population. Today’s young women are the healthiest and most educated to date, but they still face obstacles to achieving their full potential. For example, complications from pregnancy, childbirth, and unsafe abortion are the major causes of death for women ages 15 to 19 in less developed countries. Additionally, young people ages 15 to 24 have the highest infection rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, and teenage women are becoming infected at twice the rate of teenage men.

Policies and programs that work for the advancement of women must address the unique needs of young women in the vulnerable—and often overlooked—age group of 10 to 19. In 1994, governments agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) “to meet the needs of adolescents and youth for information, counseling, and high-quality sexual reproductive health services,” as a way to “encourage them to continue their education, maximize their potential, and prevent early marriage and high-risk childbearing.” The ICPD and the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 recognized these goals, not only as needs of young people, but also as their rights.