The odds were stacked against Iuliana* from the beginning.

She was born into a poor family in a remote village in the Republic of Moldova, and started working at an early age. “I worked at a poultry plant,” she recently recounted. “I was only 10.”  

Her parents were often away working, leaving her without strong guidance as she entered adolescence. In school, she received limited information about her health, body and rights. 

She began dating a man four years older than her, and says she was afraid to negotiate safe sex with him. He sometimes lashed out violently against her. 

At age 15, she found out that she was pregnant. “This wasn’t my actual choice. I dreamed about something else,” she said. 

Stories like Iuliana’s are all too common. Young people around the world are left to navigate the turbulent waters of adolescence without basic, factual information about their own bodies and rights. This leaves them vulnerable to coercion, exploitation and violence, as well as sexually transmitted infections and early pregnancy. 

The most marginalized youth, and those living in poverty, are the most vulnerable. 

Twenty-five years ago, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), 179 governments agreed that the health and rights of women, girls and young people are paramount for development. This means meeting the full spectrum of their sexual and reproductive health needs, from sensitive and age-appropriate information to health care and protection from violence. 

Despite a quarter-century of consensus on the issue, the needs of girls like Iuliana are not being met. Tens of thousands of girls under age 18 give birth every day. They face worse economic outcomes and experience greater health risks. They can even die: pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19.  

Iuliana found herself the mother of a baby boy at the tender age of 15. She loves her son fiercely, but wishes she had a better life to give him. “I dreamed about continuing my education, about being independent,” she said. 

“I did want to have a child, but later, when I would have been able to provide for my baby.” 

Today, she is 17. She does not have a job. She lives in her boyfriend’s home, doing chores and caring for his ailing father. She still endures violence at the hands of her partner. 

Her story is a call to action.

The Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 takes place in less than two weeks. Thousands of people, including heads of state, community leaders, policymakers and advocates, will gather to commit to clear action to realize the rights and meet the needs of young people like Iuliana. The events will be livestreamed so that people around the world can watch, participate and raise their voices.

Because when young people are supported, healthy, educated and empowered to know their rights, everyone benefits. It is time to demand a better future – for Iuliana and all people.

*Name changed for protection and privacy