UN Recognizes International Day of the Girl Child

Soon-to-be-wed Faiz Mohammed, 40, and Ghulam Haider, 11, at her home in a rural village in Afghanistan. (Photo: Stephanie Sinclair/VII/Tooyoungtowed.org.)

UN Recognizes International Day of the Girl Child

'Let Girls Be Girls, Not Brides'

The first United Nations International Day of the Girl Child was observed Thursday with a worldwide call to end child marriage.

The day was designed to recognize the rights of girls around the world and highlight the unique challenges they face.

"Education for girls is one of the best strategies for protecting girls against child marriage," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message. "When they are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, girls can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and tehir families. Let us do our part to let girls be girls, not brides."

In 2006, the UN appointed a special representative to study violence against girls following a study on violence against children, and three years later the International Girl Child Conference in The Hague reiterated the importance of addressing gender inequalities among children, Al Jazeera reported.

Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt wrote on Common Dreams Thursday that today "is a day to celebrate the fact that it is girls who will change the world; that the empowerment of girls holds the key to development and security for families, communities and societies worldwide."

A group of global leaders known as The Elders--including Jimmy Carter and Kofi Annan--are working to eradicate child marriage, and other efforts against violence against female children, including female genital mutilation, continue.

But girls also face a disproportionate number of other obstacles, including a greater incidence of violence and discrimination, as well as less education -- which leads to a vast array of setbacks including greater poverty, illness and the likelihood that they will experience domestic violence.

According to the UN, of 1.3 billion poor people in the U.S., nearly 70 percent are women and between 75 and 80 percent of the world's 27 million refugees are women and children.

Worldwide, two-thirds of the 130 million children who are not in school are girls; more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married every day, and in the developing world, one-third of girls are married before they turn 18.

Sexual violence is also pervasive:

According to the UN, half of sexual assaults globally are committed against girls younger than 16, and the world Health Organization estimates that in 2002 alone, 150 million girls younger than 18 suffered some form of sexual violence.

"If we are serious about increasing freedom to promote development, we should advance girls' rights," Professor Manuela Picq wrote in Al Jazeera on Thursday. "Governments are very efficient at protecting national security. It's about time they protect the security of nationals: girls."

"While girls have made significant progress in recent years, the fact remains that in many societies, girls are still valued less than boys," Isobel Coleman and actress Frieda Pinto wrote Thursday in The Huffington Post. Coleman is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a board member of Plan International USA and an advisor to 10x10. Pinto is a Global Ambassdor for Plan International's "Because I am a Girl" campaign. Advocating for girls' education and against child marriage and female genital mutilation, Coleman and Pinto wrote that for every additional year of primary education, women's earnings increase 10 to 20 percent, and every year of secondary education increases their earnings 15 to 25 percent. Educated women also have smaller, healthier, and mores sustainable families and are more likely to educate their own children, according to a study by the World Bank.

"We know there is no silver bullet for raising the status of girls," Coleman and Pinto continued. "What is required are long-term investment in girls' education, support for women's economic empowerment and increased access to health care and political participation."

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