Courtesy of UN Photo
The United Nations recognized the first annual International Day of the Girl Child on Thursday, as world leaders and international human rights experts came together to express their support for young women and girls around the world victimized by abuse.
A panel at UN headquarters in New York featuring Ban Ki-moon, Archbishop Demsond Tutu, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, and UNFPA Chief Babatunde Osotimehin came together to unequivocally declare their support for girls’ rights, and express outrage and disgust at the way that girls are treated in many parts of the world.
Particularly targeted was the institution of child marriage, which affects nearly half of all girls on the planet, or ten million each year.
“Together, let us resolve to end discrimination and poverty that perpetuate [child marriage],” said Mr. Ban. “Let us help those who are already married lead more fulfilling lives. All members of society wil benefit when we let girls be girls, not brides.”
Archbishop Tutu agreed with the Secretary-Generals remarks. “Girls risk being married off on an even more staggering scale than we had previously,” he said. “Imagine the potential we could unlock if we let these girls be girls, not brides. The benefits would not only be theirs, but also their families’ and their wider communities. It would lift up our entire human family.”
A high incidence of child marriage, or the marriage of an individual under the age of 18, has been shown to have devastating effects on a country’s development potential. More disturbingly, it hurts girls. Many girls married off as children – some as young as eight years old – have no opportunity for education, and are forced, often abruptly and without preparation, into sexual relationships with men decades older than they are.
Speakers advocated a plan proposed by UNFPA which would take tangible steps to eradicate child marriage and give all girls a chance at a childhood and a decent life. Some of these measures include promoting national laws that strictly enforce the legal of marriage at 18, and targeting child marriage “hotspots” to be monitored by international institutions. Another, of course, is improving the quality of primary and secondary education in countries all over the world.
The first International Day of the Girl Child is a timely event. It occurs as millions of young still have little control over their lives and are forced into dangerous and unhealthy situations. This day is a time to recognize this severe and destabilizing problem, and take real, measurable steps to end it.