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Let girls fulfill their dreams

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Fri, Oct 12, 2012

“Girls are being robbed of their childhood. They have babies before they are ready and we see intergenerational poverty. We need to stop this vicious cycle”.

-Babatunde Osotemehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund

The despicable and cowardly attack, earlier this week, on a 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafazai, by elements of the Pakistani Taliban, has highlighted the dangers to which young girls are exposed in trying to exercise their basic human rights in some parts of the world. The teenager had achieved fame for her relentless and courageous campaign for the right of girls to education in the face of hostility and backwardness which endangered her life.{{more}}

The shooting of young Malala, in the head, provides a backdrop to the United Nations’ ‘Day of the Girl’, observed internationally on October 11. The UN General Assembly had, on December 19 last year, declared this date to be observed annually in order “to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face around the world”. It signalled the commitment of the world community to end gender stereotyping, discrimination, violence and the many economic disparities affecting young girls.

The Day of the Girl also serves to recognize girls as a segment of the population which faces difficult challenges including gender violence, early marriages, premature pregnancies, child labour and discrimination at the workplaces where many of them end up, rather than in school. The intention is that observance of the Day will help to raise awareness world-wide of the obstacles to the development of young girls.

Two of the biggest challenges are those presented by teenage and premature pregnancies and the practice of child marriages, still very prevalent in many parts of the world. Both have severe social and economic consequences which retard the progress and development of young girls.

Statistics provided by UN agencies make woeful reading. Sixty million girls are forced into marriage each year at a rate of some 25,000 per day. This shockingly includes girls in the 10 to 14 age bracket. The number of child brides under the age of 15 is expected to double over the next decade and, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) could reach 50 million by 2020 and a whopping 100 million by 2030. “This is marriage of children who don’t even understand what it is to be married or to be an adult”, comments the UNFPA Executive Director.

In addition, it is pointed out that such child brides are deprived of their most fundamental human rights. Child brides are treated as the “property” of their husbands, to be bought, sold and discarded at will. They are also twice as likely as older brides to be beaten by their spouses. The practice is most prevalent in South Asia (46 % of brides are under the age of 18 years), Sub-Saharan Africa (37%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (29%).

This practice of marrying off school-age girls is detrimental to their educational development, denying them of the opportunity for advancing their own careers and making them subservient to their husbands. Interestingly, it is estimated that girls who complete secondary schooling are six times less likely to become child brides as those whose schooling is interrupted.

Similarly, under-age pregnancies have a detrimental effect on education of young girls. Too many are forced to leave school after becoming pregnant, sometimes driven from home as well. Yet in most cases, it is adult males who are responsible for the pregnancies. It is estimated that half of the girl population in developing countries is doomed to a fate of child motherhood.

In our own country, this practice continues, with 345 out of 1725 births in 2010 being from teenage mothers. A startling 11 of these were from children between the ages of 10 and 14 years.

Besides the educational handicap, there is also a major health risk. Pregnancy is the biggest killer of teenage girls in the developing countries, accounting for some 50,000 deaths in the 15 to 19 age group each year. Girls in the 10 to 14 age range are considered to be 5 times more likely to die during pregnancy as those in the 20 to 24 age range.

For all these reasons, the decision of the UN to focus on the DAY of the Girl Child is a wise and timely one, which we support wholeheartedly. Regrettably, it has not yet caught on locally, but we urge all those with interest in this area to flag the date and to ensure that we in SVG become part of a vigorous international campaign to ensure that our girl children get the opportunity for the fullest enjoyment of their childhood, for maximising their educational potential and to be able to exercise their legitimate rights as equal citizens of the world.

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