UNITED NATIONS, July 11 (APP): Leaders and communities must focus on and stand up for the rights of teenage girls, particularly those who are poor, out of school, exploited, or subjected to harmful traditional practices, the United Nations has said, marking World Population Day.

Despite significant gains made in reducing poverty and improving  opportunity and well-being for many people around the world, hundreds of millions remain desperate for a chance of a better future,  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday in his message on the Day, celebrated annually on July 11.

“Among those least served by previous development initiatives are  girls, particularly those in their formative teenage years,” continued  the UN chief, explaining that just when girls should be in school and imagining the possibilities ahead, too many are held back from pursuing their ambitions by social and cultural traps.

He said while a boy’s options and opportunities tend to expand when  he becomes an adolescent, those of a girl too often shrink. Moreover, he stressed, half of all sexual assaults worldwide are committed against  girls aged 15 or younger. In developing countries, one in three girls is married before she reaches 18. And teenage girls are less likely than teenage boys to start or finish secondary school, he added.

Recalling that “leaving no on behind” is a central objective of the  2030 Agenda , which also includes a specific goal to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, the Secretary General urged all Governments, businesses and civil society to support and invest in teenage girls.

“Everyone deserves the benefits of economic growth and social progress.

Let us work together to ensure a life of security, dignity and opportunity for all,” he stated.

In his message, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr.

Babatunde Osotimehin said: “When [a teenage girl] has no say in decisions about her education, health, work or even marital status, she may never realize her full potential or become a positive force for transformation in her home, community and nation.”

Indeed, he explained, in some parts of the world, a girl who reaches  puberty is deemed by her family or community as ready for marriage, pregnancy and childbirth.