Let not the blooming flowers wither and die - (an afterthought to International Day for the Girl Child) Time the world acted | Sunday Observer

Let not the blooming flowers wither and die - (an afterthought to International Day for the Girl Child) Time the world acted

 “...I speak not for myself but for those without voice... those who have fought for their rights... their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated…”-Malala Yousafzai-

The world celebrated International Day for the Girl Child on 11 October for the fifth consecutive year. The United Nations General Assembly has nominated it as the day to recognize girls’ rights and their unique challenges. In reserving a day for advocacy and action by and for girls, the United Nations has signalled its commitment to end gender stereotypes, discrimination, violence, and the economic disparities that disproportionately affect girls.

The Day of the Girl is mainly about highlighting, celebrating and advancing girls’ lives and opportunities across the world. The goal of dedicating a special day for girls is to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for ways to improve girls’ lives, by providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.

Why a separate day?

A question raised by many was whether we need a separate day for the celebration of the girl child. It is true that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) already guarantees the rights of all children, without discrimination in any form, including gender. It also obliges its State parties to ensure that each child, irrespective of the fact whether it is a boy or girl, within their jurisdiction has all the rights recognized by the Convention. The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also ensures rights of women, including girls. Sri Lanka has also adopted two different Charters at the national level, namely, the Children's Charter and the Women’s Charter.

Yet, despite such impassioned attempts taken both, in the national and international levels, many countries and cultures, including our own, girls are not always granted equal access to their rights. In fact, despite the near-universal ratification of the Convention, millions of girls today are denied their inherent, basic human rights. The attention drawn to this status-quo led to the dedication of a separate day for the girl child since 2012.

The bitter truth

You and I may be reading this article in a comfortable and cozy environment, while, at the same time, millions of girls are being denied even their basic rights, such as, education, nutrition and sanitation. Millions more are still victims of gross and inhumane human rights violations, such as, female genital mutilation, early marriage, rape and incest, trafficking, as well as domestic violence, which in many countries is not even considered a crime or a human rights violation.

In fact, practices such as FGM and early marriage are still considered to be essential features of certain cultures. Empirical evidence and statistics as produced by the UN shows that women and girls constitute 70 percent of the world's poor, a statistically large amount neglected in their access to education.

Often kept home to care for the household and younger siblings, girls comprise nearly two thirds of the 130 million children in developing countries not in school. Roughly, the same proportion of the nearly 1 billion illiterate adults in the world today are female.

These women's and girls' lives have become vicious cycles of continuing neglect, malnutrition, abuse, illiteracy and poverty, which they have come to accept as part of their destiny. Some 100 million lesser girls are alive today, than it could be expected through the natural patterns of birth and survival in infancy, which is a downcast reflection of girls’ lesser access to nutrition, health care and immunization. Hence, it is time that the world took collective measures to prevent such tragedies from recurring.

The Fact Sheet produced by UNICEF on the International Day of the Girl Child based on data collected by girls aged 15 to 19 states, almost one quarter of such girls worldwide (which amounts to almost 70 million) have become victims of some form of physical violence. Sexual violence is also another form of torture inflicted upon innocent young girls.

Forced intercourse

It has been reported that around 120 million girls under the age of 20 worldwide (which amounts to about 1 in every 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts. One in every 3 married adolescent girls (around 84 million) have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners.

These statistics also revealed the tragic truth that nearly half of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide are given the perception that a husband or partner is justified in hitting or beating the wife or partner under certain circumstances, i.e, if she argues with her husband, goes out without his permission, neglects the children, refuses sex or burns the food.

Data suggests that in some countries, as many as seven in every 10 girls aged 15 to 19 who had been victims of physical and/or sexual abuse had never sought help: many have stated they did not think it was abuse or did not see it as a problem.

The way ahead

It also revealed the shocking stance that a larger proportion of girls than boys believe that beating the wife is somehow justified. Early marriage is also a global menace. Even though it is not practised in Sri Lanka at present, more than 700 million women worldwide today, were married before their 18th birthday. More than one in three (which amounts to about 250 million) have entered into marriage before they have reached the age of 15, the highest rates of which are found in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Almost half of all child brides worldwide live in South Asia; whereas 1 in every 3 child brides are from India.

Girls are the bearers of our future. Their health and well-being is of paramount importance to all of mankind. She is not worth being neglected and disregarded in a grossly inhumane manner. When girls come together to talk about what matters to them, they can teach other people; adults, boys, girls all across the world of a new way of thinking about issues such as gender stereotypes, discrimination, and opportunity.

It is our duty to make sure that the future of the girl child is ensured and protected. The day every one of us strives to do so, the world will undoubtedly be a better place for the girl child, as well as for the human race.