3 innovative apps protecting girls around the world

For many of us, it would be hard to imagine life without our favourite mobile apps. With a swipe and a few taps, you can order food, arrange transport, go shopping, find a date and share content with friends all over the world.

Aside from the convenience and connectedness these apps provide in everyday life, mobile apps can also help protect and spread awareness about girls’ rights.

According to data released by ITU, the United Nations agency specializing in information and communication technologies, the world has more mobile phone subscriptions than people, with mobile phone usage rising exponentially among youth in the developing world.

In light of this, Plan International has established powerful partnerships to develop apps which can empower youth, especially girls, and help prevent common rights violations like child marriage and sexual harassment.

Here are just 3 of these innovative apps that are working to protect girls around the world – helping them Defy Normal and realize their rights!

1. The app preventing child marriage

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with 59 percent of girls marrying before 18.

In partnership with the Government of Bangladesh, Plan International helped develop an age-verification app to prevent child marriages before they happen.

This innovative app has been hugely successful at preventing unlawful marriages– in fact, it stopped 3,700 child marriages during a 6-month trial period.

How it works: The app prevents child marriage by allowing matchmakers, priests and officers who register marriages to verify the bride and groom’s ages through a digital database. If the bride and groom are over 18 years, the app will tell them to proceed. However, if they are under 18, the marriage registration process will immediately be terminated.

Almost 80% of Bangladesh’s 160 million people own a mobile phone, however only 20% have access to the internet. That’s why there is both an online and offline version of the app available – this means even hard-to-reach rural areas (where the majority of child marriages occur) can access the database and use the technology.

In the past, a physical copy of a birth certificate, school leaving certificate or national ID card was all that was required as proof of age, but these documents were frequently forged if a bride or groom was under age.

With the new app, this is no longer a possibility, as the marriage registrar and solemniser can digitally verify the document, thereby significantly reducing chances of fraud.

Plan International is currently training 100,000 officiants across Bangladesh about the ill effects of child marriage and how to use the app in their day-to-day marriage registration proceedings.

2. The app making cities safer

Cities around the world continue to grow at an unprecedented rate, offering enormous economic opportunities, but research shows that the urban environment can be an incredibly dangerous place for girls and young women.

According to a survey conducted by Plan International which asked 400 experts across 6 continents to share their perceptions on girls’ rights and urban safety, sexual harassment is the number one safety risk facing girls and young women living in cities across the world.

To combat this, Plan International in partnership with Monash University and CrowdSpot developed an app which asks girls and young women themselves to collectively share their experiences and map out the safe and unsafe areas of their cities using the Free to Be app.

Hand holding phone

How it works: Free to Be is an interactive map of the city and a survey which allows girls and women to drop ‘pins’ on the map – good or bad – on places they love, avoid, feel safe in and think can be improved, and to answer a small number of questions about their experiences there, as well as leave comments.

Free to Be is currently being implemented in eight cities: Delhi, India; Hanoi, Vietnam; Cairo, Egypt; Kampala, Uganda; Nairobi, Kenya; Lima, Peru; San Francisco, Paraguay, and Honiara, Solomon Islands. We hope to scale up to 20 cities globally over the next few years.

3. The app increasing access to sex ed

Approximately one in four girls in Timor-Leste will have a child before turning 20, and teenagers know little about sexual relationships, reproduction, and contraception.

But recent research by Plan International Timor-Leste and UNFPA indicates that if young people had better access to sexual education and sexual health services, high rates of teenage pregnancy and child marriage could be dramatically reduced.

That’s why we’ve partnered up with Marie Stopes Timor-Leste and created a new smartphone app called “Reprodutiva” to combat high rates of teen pregnancy in Timor-Leste.

The app connects teenagers with sexual and reproductive health services and vital information, because everyone has the right sexual and reproductive health education.

Girls smiling and holding up banner for reprodutiva app

How it works: The app provides a safe and confidential space for young people to have their questions about sexual and reproductive health answered by professionals.

App users can ask questions, share tips in group chats, and organise consultations and medical appointments. Questions already answered through the app include, “What is ovulation and how is a baby made?”, and queries about traditional beliefs that prevent women from washing their hair when they have their period.

“In the past I have sometimes used the internet to get more information about these issues,” explains Maria, a teen who uses the app. “But there is not much information available in my language, Tetun.”

Maria says she can use Reprodutiva to ask confidential questions of health experts, and receive direct responses with clear, helpful information in her native tongue. 

Change in the palm of a hand

Girl holding phone in city

A simple app can transform lives and help children, especially girls, realize their right to protection, safety and education.

And in a world where normal is children denied their rights and girls denied equality, powerful technological innovations present new opportunities to Defy Normal, so that all can unleash their full potential!