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Strengthening our social safety nets and justice system to end the cycle of violence against girls

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Fri, Oct 10, 2014

Tomorrow, October 11 is the United Nations International Day of the Girl Child.

The day promotes girls’ human rights, highlights gender inequalities that remain between girls and boys and addresses the various forms of discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the world.{{more}}

This year, the theme is “Empowering adolescent girls: Ending the cycle of violence.”

Sometimes the themes chosen for these international days of recognition are not necessarily relevant to our circumstances here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, but this year, the theme captures perfectly, a major concern in our society.

Around the world, life for adolescent girls has seen steady improvement over the years, but according to the United Nations, many are still subjected to horrific practices, such as female genital mutilation, son preference – often resulting in female infanticide – as well as child marriage, sexual exploitation and abuse.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, our girls experience equality of education at all stages, and thankfully, atrocities such as genital mutilation, female infanticide and child marriage are not practiced.

Unfortunately, far too many of our girls are victims of sexual exploitation and statutory rape – acts of violence which permanently damage their psyche and how they think about themselves.

Although as a society we are talking out a lot more about the scourge of incest and statutory rape in our communities, these twin horrors still occur far too often. When reports are made and police try to bring the perpetrators to justice, many parents still refuse to cooperate. Some fear for their physical safety, others accept money to keep quiet, while in other cases, the mother says nothing because the culprit is the main breadwinner in the home.

And many times, girls who have been victimized in their childhood have their education cut short because of pregnancy and grow up to be women caught in the grip of abject poverty. Their economic situation then makes them and their children, especially the girls, vulnerable to more violence and sexual exploitation.

As this year’s theme implies, ending this vicious cycle will depend largely on how successful we are in our efforts to condition our girls to believe that they are all persons of high value who have been placed on earth for a unique, important and specific purpose.

Strengthening and empowering our girls will not happen by just telling them that they are valued; what we say must consistently be reinforced by how much protection we offer them and by the respect and care we demonstrate in the home, school and the community.

We must also ensure that social safety nets are strengthened and waiting to catch them, should the home be unable or unwilling to perform its role.

In addition to the important function performed by the social welfare department in meeting the material needs of at risk children so that they would be less vulnerable to predators, the laws relating to bringing child molesters and abusers to justice must be reviewed to make prosecution possible, even without the cooperation of the parent.

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