Photo courtesy of Daily Mirror
Today is International Day of the Girl Child
While the lives of young girls in most countries around the world have certainly improved over the past few decades, there are still critical concerns that are unique to girls under the age of 18 such as female infanticide, early marriage and childbirth, Female Genital Mutilation, unequal access to education and health care, stereotyping, teenage pregnancy and sexual abuse. Girls also experience discrimination in food allocation and healthcare.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report (2020) states that gender parity will only be attained in just under 100 years from now.
On December 19, 2011 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. The day focuses on the need to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.
“Adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during these critical formative years, but also as they mature into women. If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders. An investment in realising the power of adolescent girls upholds their rights today and promises a more equitable and prosperous future, one in which half of humanity is an equal partner in solving the problems of climate change, political conflict, economic growth, disease prevention, and global sustainability,” said the UN.
Although a few girls such as Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg have captured the world’s imagination with their bold and passionate championship of critical causes, young girls are still marginalized and discriminated against, especially in the developing world.
Some 650 million girls and women around the world have been married as children and over 200 million have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation while 129 million girls are out of school. In developing countries, one out of every four young women have not completed their primary school education.
The lack of education is the most urgent issue because from it stems a host of other barriers facing the girl child. An uneducated girl may be married off early and have children at a young age, endangering her health. She is also more likely to face domestic violence. Without an education, she will be subject to low paying, menial jobs.
“Girls’ education is a strategic development priority. Better educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes. All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and countries out of poverty,” said the World Bank.
But many achievements towards girls’ empowerment and equality are being eroded by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic; confinement with their families and keeping away from school is increasing early marriages and genital mutilation and is disrupting global efforts to end these practices. It has also resulted in more sexual abuse, including online abuse.
“There is already a worrying rise in abuse, forced marriages, school dropouts, cyberbullying, online sexual violence and female genital mutilation and the Coronavirus pandemic is putting more and more girls at risk,” said the Global Gender Gap report.
Girls are often deprived of the fundamental right to manage their own bodies and consent to sexual intercourse. Worldwide, it is estimated that at least 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other types of sexual abuses during their lives.
In Sri Lanka, the problem of sexual abuse of children is a grave one where 14.4 per cent of late adolescent girls have been subjected to some form of sexual abuse. According to police data there were 10,593 cases of rape between 2010 and 2015, of which three-quarters were statutory rape cases of girls under 16.
Ninety per cent of child sexual abuse cases in Sri Lanka are from incest. This means that perpetrators are close relatives, a neighbour, a religious leader or a teacher.
“After being sexually abused, the girl child is considered soiled and impure, she is marginalized and even ostracized by her community. She becomes the victim twice over, with no form of reprieve,” said Hazel Rajiah-Tetteh, Country Manager of Emerge Lanka Foundation, an organization that works alongside survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Its programme for children comprises of life skills, reproductive health, personal development and entrepreneurship.
“Economic instability, mental health issues, uncertainty and many other factors play into creating an unsafe environment for a child. There is an increased risk of violence towards people and, in this case, children. Children are extremely vulnerable in households that harbor tension, stress and isolation from routine,” said Ms. Rajiah-Tetteh.
“Discussing child sexual abuse has always been difficult and seasonal due to the stigma and sensitivity attached to it. We do however see that people speak up and about it more often now. This awareness may play a key role in cases being reported more often,” she added.
Taking into account the rise in reported numbers on child abuse, as well as the pandemic climate where the risk has increased for child safety, Emerge has launched a project to keep children safe. #ProtectEveryChild is an online awareness campaign built to educate the public on childhood sexual abuse, its impact, indicators, ways to report cases, ways to be active in child protection and create a wave of solidarity online, for individuals to take accountability, responsibility and make an active pledge to “be alert, speak up, and to always Protect Every Child”.
To mark #DayOfTheGirl, Groundviews spoke to @EmergeGlobal Country Manager Hazel Rajiah on the worrying rise in sexual abuse in #SriLanka, its associated stigmas, and the role communities need to take on to protect our children.
— Groundviews (@groundviews) October 11, 2021