On August 5, 2013, the Secretary General released his Report on the Girl Child. The Report recognized the rights of all children, including girl children, and that such recognition is the obligation of every state. These rights include the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and the right to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life, and the arts. The Report warns that in adolescence, these rights are challenged due to domestic responsibilities, protective concerns of parents, and a lack of facilities. Girls are more likely to become victims of sexualization in the media, sexual abuse, and exploitation via internet and tourism.
One of the Report’s biggest issues discussed was violence against girls. The Report asserts the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, particularly female genital mutilation and negative cultural attitudes and practices affecting girls. The Report encourages all parties to raise awareness, enforce legislation, allocate resources to protect women and girls, and promote girls’ rights, including education, health, and participation in economic and political life. The Report also notes that women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to violence during conflicts and natural disasters and that girls in the juvenile justice system require special protection against violence, physical and sexual.
In terms of education, the Report states that 53% of the 61 million children out of school are girls. While this is a decrease from past years, global averages do not adequately reflect the disparities between regions; enrolment and completion of school for girls in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia lag behind other countries. The Report notes that in countries with limited resources, secondary education is harder to receive for girls. In general, the Report notes that it is difficult for girls to attend school due to gender discrimination, adolescent pregnancy, health factors, and choosing labor over education to provide income for the family.
The Report warns that gender discrimination in its many manifestations serves as an economic impediment. Girls often deal with household poverty and may be taken out of school to work in inappropriate environments or to marry early. Such discrimination can also make it difficult for migrating girls in getting access to support systems, sometimes forcing them to engage in beg or engage in transactional sex. Girls are at far greater risk of sexual violence and harmful practices including FGM, child or forced marriage, honour killings, acid attacks, sexual slavery, breast ironing, and virginity testing. Other manifestations include the substantial deficit in the ratio of girls to boys born in some countries.
Other issues noted in the Report include the risks of adolescent pregnancy, inadequate aid for mental health issues, sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition risks including anemia, and unsafe water and inadequate sanitation. The Report notes that girls with mental health issues in low and middle-income countries particularly suffer from anxiety and mood disorders. The Report also warns of the risks of anemia, which has negative impact on maternal and infant health and learning capability. The Report also notes that girls under 15 years old are 50% more likely to be responsible for collecting water, and the time spent walking long distances to collect water reduces the time they can spend on education and healthcare. Girls involved in child labor are often exploited into slavery or servitude. In conflicts, girls are more likely than boys to lack schooling, food, and health services, and are also face widespread recruitment for non-combatant purposes, especially abduction for use of sex slaves and exploitation.
The Report focuses on the creation of recognizing child-headed households in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. The Report encourages governments to recognize such households as a group with specific needs, including legal rights and education on family planning and sexual health. The Report stresses that governments must ensure girls who head households are legally recognized with rights including land ownership, access to financial and social and health services, and access to measure that reduce the likelihood of missing or leaving school.
The Report encourages all parties to strengthen education, from providing quality education for all children to enrolling refugees in local schools. Calling gender inequality in education as a “matter of urgency”, the Report calls on educational systems to recognize free and compulsory quality education as a judicial right supported by evidence-based planning and monitoring, quality budgets, and minimal barriers to access. The Report encourages interventions to improve girls’ enrollment, primary school completion, secondary school education, and reception of scholarships. Such interventions should come from communities that encourage parents to support their daughters’ right to education. The Report warns that accelerated progress in girls’ education requires effort to ensure that actual experiences of female students and their status within families and communities are addressed with responsive policies and strategies.
Young Afghan Girl Attends UNICEF-Supported School
The Report overall encouraged participation of girls in the education of and the promotion of girls’ rights. This not only includes improving girls’ education, but also with access to health services, menstrual hygiene management, sex-segregated toilet facilities in school, inclusion of marginalized girls, use of evidence to inform the promotion of girls’ rights, and enacting and enforcing laws concerning the legal age of consent and minimum age for marriage.
Written By: Soyeon Kim, WGG Intern Fall 2013