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Backing the girl child

girls-1200x455Today marks the International Day of the Girl Child, a United Nations-led initiative supporting the more than 1.1 billion girls worldwide. Girls have the potential to be a powerful force for shaping a sustainable world.

The Day aims to highlight the fact too many girls around the world have their potential and dreams thwarted by violence, discrimination and inequality.

Some of the major issues facing girls all over the world:

  • One in 3 girls in developing countries (except China) are married before turning 18
  • Poor girls are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood than wealthy girls
  • Child marriage usually ends a girl’s education, and puts her at greater risk of violence.
  • Childbirth is the number one killer of girls aged 15 to 19, with 50,000 deaths annually
  • 36 million primary school aged girls are not in school
  • Girls receive just an average of six years of formal education in their lives
  • A girl’s income is elevated by 10 to 20% for every year of secondary school she attends
  • A child is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five if she is born to a mother who can read

In South Africa, the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD) supported by the United Nations (UN) will host a dialogue with experts and young girls discussing matters related to teenage pregnancy, inter-generational sex and early child marriages to commemorate this day.

Girls face discrimination and violence every day across the world. The International Day of the Girl Child focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.

As part of the global celebration, Archbishop Desmond Tutu will take part in a high-level panel at the United Nations in New York with other senior UN officials and prominent figures. At the global event, this year’s theme focuses on child marriage – a fundamental human rights violation which impacts all aspects of a girl’s life.

South Africa has strong laws and policies that protect the rights of the girl child. There exists, however, some practices that are harmful and violate their rights. “Girls have the right to make decisions regarding their futures and they need to be empowered to understand their rights and be able to use them”, says Minister Lulu Xingwana.

NACOSA’s Young Women & Girls Programme urges all of us to become active ambassadors for change and success in the lives of girls. As communities, we must assure them that they are protected against sexual violence and other related injustices.

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