9 December 2022
Global violence uniquely affects the girl child. Although international legal instruments have been in place for decades to protect the girl child, thousands of brutal acts of violence and neglect specifically targeting the girl child can be observed around the world on a daily basis. For centuries, girls who have barely attained adolescence have been forced into marriage, often with men many years their senior. As a minor, a girl child cannot legally give her consent to enter into such a partnership. They are traded, bought, and sold across national borders as commodities to be put to use as prostitutes or slaves, or merely to be sold again at a profit. Many girls are even victimized before birth, as technology and greater access to medicine have given rise to prenatal sex selection and selection abortion based on sex. Girls continue to face the threat of sexual harassment and abuse in workplaces and schools. Their lives may be taken for the “honor” of their families for speaking to strangers or committing other minor transgressions. Violence against the girl child has become a powerful and all-too-common tactic in times of war and humanitarian disaster.
Violence against the girl child is perpetrated on every continent, wielded by every social and economic class, and sanctioned to varying degrees by every form of government, every major religion, and every kind of communal or familial structure. There is no place of complete refuge for the girl child, only promises of stronger legal regimes and more robust non-governmental assistance.
Forced and child marriages entrap women and young girls in relationships that deprive them of their basic human rights. Forced marriage constitutes a human rights violation in and of itself. Many young girls are forced to leave the homes of their parents and take on the adult role of wife when they are still children themselves. The Convention on Consent to Marriage recalls that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “[m]arriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” In applying this principle, the parties to the Convention on Consent to Marriage agree in Article 1 that “[n]o marriage shall be legally entered into without the full and free consent of both parties, such consent to be expressed by them in person after due publicity in the presence of authority competent to solemnize the marriage and of witnesses, as prescribed by law.” The Convention goes on to state that “State Parties to the present Convention shall take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage. No marriage shall be legally entered into by any person under this age, except where a competent authority has granted a dispensation as to age, for serious reasons, in the interest of the intending spouses.”
Sexual Exploitation, Prostitution, and Trafficking
Sexual exploitation, trafficking, and prostitution present significant risks to the girl child’s mental and physical health. Numerous counties and organizations, including the United States and the United Nations, have monitored and begun initiatives to end the practices.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) defines a child as: a “human being below the age of 18 years, unless under the law applicable to that child, majority is attained earlier.” Further, the Convention defines trafficking as: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, or fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs…” While UNICEF’s initiative to stop child trafficking includes boys in addition to girls, the commission notes that girls are at far greater risk for certain types of trafficking, including domestic labor and the sex trade.
Sexual Harassment in Schools and the Workplace
Sexual Harassment is a violation of women’s human rights and a prohibited form of violence against women. Sexual harassment causes incalculable economic, psychological and physical harm to its victims and serves to reinforce the subordination of women to men in the workplace. Sexual harassment against the girl child is prevalent both in the workplace and at school. Girl children who are employed as domestic workers or as industrial laborers are vulnerable to sexual harassment and exploitation by their employers. Girl children who attend school are often victimized by teachers or their peers.
Crimes Committed in the Name of “Honor”
Thousands of girl children around the world are killed each year for committing or being capable of committing transgressions deemed to be dishonorable. “Honor” killings are defined by the Human Rights Watch as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.”
Motives for “honor” killings have included: suspicion of adultery, premarital sex, or some other relationship between a woman and a man; being a victim of rape or sexual assault; refusing to enter an arranged marriage; seeking divorce or trying to escape marital violence; and falling in love with someone who is unacceptable to the victim’s family according to The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women.
The harmful beliefs, customs and mindset at the core of this problem can be changed. What was learned can be unlearned and what is perpetuated can be punished. It is time for us all, women, men, girls, boys and key public actors to end violence against women and girls.
This article was originally published on ‘Stop VAW’.