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Avril* dropped out of school to support her family, then became pregnant and is now a single mother. Her situation makes her invisible to her government and more vulnerable as a result.

Sixteen-year-old Avril lives in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) of Nicaragua in a remote community. Home to indigenous people, the area is characterised by poverty, drugs and sexual violence meaning girls have few opportunities to follow their aspirations.

Avril dropped out of school and travelled to Nicaragua’s capital Managua 2 years ago to earn money for her family. While working informally as a nanny she was befriended by an older man.

Risk of teenage pregnancy

Learn more about Counting the Invisible “He was 32, married, and a father,” says Avril. “He convinced me to start a relationship. I didn’t know what I was entering into.” Girls in RACCN frequently enter into relationships with older men as a way to protect themselves from violence. Within months she fell pregnant.

Nicaragua has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Latin America and the Caribbean. In RACCN 1 in 3 girls between 15 and 19 are already a mother or are pregnant. There is no data on girls who become mothers under the age of 15, so those girls are invisible.

Avril returned home, worried about her situation. Her father refused to let her stay so she took refuge in a shelter run by a local NGO. Her family have since taken her in but her life now revolves caring for her baby and doing household chores.

Data needed on girls’ lives

Plan International’s ‘Counting the Invisible’ report shows that governments will not end the inequality facing millions of girls like Avril without better statistics on the realities they face.

He convinced me to start a relationship. I didn’t know what I was entering into

Avril’s circumstances are not captured in official data as she left school early and worked informally. She has remained invisible to authorities, making her vulnerable to violations of her rights.

In Nicaragua, as the report reveals, this often means girls are sexually abused and become pregnant when they are teenagers. The majority of girls from Nicaragua interviewed as part of the report said they feel unsafe at home, on the streets and in relationships while a quarter said they had to stop school due to pregnancy or sexual harassment.

Addressing social barriers

Avril is being supported by a Plan International programme that helps make girls aware of their rights and addresses barriers preventing them from continuing their education.

“I learned a lot about how I can respond to different situations – particularly with men,” says Avril. “Men must be taught to treat girls with respect.”

Learn more about Counting the Invisible

*Name changed to protect identity