Nairobi — The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) on Thursday urged African governments to invest in girls in order to achieve sustainable development.UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Natalia Kanem told a population forum in the Kenyan capital Nairobi that investments in girls will result in significant economic returns for Africa.

"We know, for example, that girls completing secondary school in Kenya would add 27 billion U.S. dollars to the economy over their lifetimes. In Nigeria, if young women had the same employment rates as young men, the country would add 13.9 billion dollars annually," Kanem said during a discussion on harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa.

The day-long conference brought participants from across Africa.

Kanem said that the situation for many girls in Africa was particularly dire as girls under the age of 15 were five times more likely to die during childbirth than older women.

 "Investments in girls will enable them to enjoy their human rights as well as realize their full potential," she said.

She said that in Africa more girls were finishing primary school, but they faced challenges in accessing and completing secondary education.

Kanem, who is also the UN Assistant Secretary-General, said that early marriage and pregnancy coupled with gender-based violence and discrimination often spelt the end of education for adolescent girls.

"This puts the girls' health at risk and destroys their potential contributions to their societies," Kanem said.

She urged African governments to ensure that adolescent girls are not married during childhood, so that they complete their education. Xinhua

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