The International day of the Girl Child as declared by the United Nations General Assembly has come and gone but the reminder of the unnecessary limitations and obstacles faced by the girl child throughout the world still lingers. Suffice it to say that for the girl child in some parts of the world today, is locked in a series of woes upon woes and as she struggles through this quagmire, desperate to survive, we must stretch a helping hand and assist her in staying afloat.
Woes of a Young Girl
The story of Malala Yousafzai, the 15 year old girl activist from Pakistan reverbrated throughout the world recently after an attack was made on her life by the Taliban. The Girl Child from birth is an invaluable being with unlimited potentials and should be treated with nothing short of profound love and affection and provided for in terms of food, nutrition, healthcare, education and security. This is hardly so in some parts of the world. The Girl Child is discriminated against from her earliest stages of life, throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Female foeticide and infanticide is not unheard of as female foetuses are aborted even before they are born and killed as babies with no crime other than being females.It is an extreme manifestation of violence against women. The UN reports approximately 200 million girls in the world today are ‘missing’.India and China are said to eliminate more female infants than the number of girls born in the United States each year.
The Girl Child’s genitalia are also mutilated for chauvinistic reasons in the name of female circumcision. She bleeds and gets infected. Genital Mutilation further militates against her satisfactory sexual life inducing stress in her future marital relationship. Some develop acquired gynaetresia (occlusion of the vagina) affecting both sexual life and childbirth.In Africa,according to WHO,about 92 million girls 10 years and above are estimated to have undergone FGM and about 140 million girls and women are living with the consequences.
Sexual Violence and Early marriage
As if this is not enough, sexual and violent abuse of the girl child is on the rampant. Global Prevalence of Child sexual abuse has increased to19.7% for females according to the 2009 study published in Clinical Psychology review. The number of unreported cases is even far greater .These innocent beings are subjected to the trauma of sexual abuse at such tender ages. They subsequently suffer a range of morbidities from immediate injuries like lacerations, bleeding, damage to internal organs and worse still death to long term psychological, emotional and social complications like depression, poor self esteem, and anxiety disorders. The list is endless and devastating and is better imagined than experienced!
The concept of early marriage is another limitation for the girl child. Some countries in Africa are amongst those with the highest proportion of early marriage.Sub Saharan Africa has the second highest rate of early and forced marriage.This ,often against the wish of the girl child is justified as a cultural norm and sometimes, a financial transaction by their families. This forms a major setback in her life, limits her opportunities and jeopardizes her right to a proper education. Her early life is compounded with sexual and reproductive problems much more than she can handle. She gets pregnant, suffer complications during pregnancy and delivery and most times, loss of live is inevitable increasing maternal mortality rates. A large percentage develop obstetric fistula and are subjected to a life of ridicule.
The percentage of girls enrolled in schools remains significantly low in most countries. The girl child is expected to stay home and attend to domestic chores and is neither encouraged or given the chance to participate in intellectually stimulating activities. Few who are enrolled drop out early for an array of reasons: lack of funds, early marriages, child labour, domestic demands or cultural bias .This discrimination is further justified on the grounds of different expectations in the roles and prospects of the girl child!
Solutions to the Challenges of the Girl-Child
The travails of the girl child can be controlled. We must take action and works together to reduce if not alleviate these acts. Beliefs and Perception must be changed globally about the value of the girl child. Joint action from all sectors and community based awareness and advocacy is necessary. Programmes that raise public awareness and educate on the prevalence, prevention and consequences of foeticide, infanticide, female genital mutilation, child sexual abuse and early marriages should be encouraged. Professional evaluation and treatment should be provided for victims of sexual abuse and perpetuators should be charged and severely punished. Cultural attitudes on child marriage should be shifted and the girl child’s rights promoted and protected.
Individuals, Institutions, Organisations and Government should initiate, support and finance projects and policies assisting the girl child in her quest for a better life and in eliminating all forms of discrimination against her. Programmes aimed at empowering the girl child should be facilitated and initiatives taken to ensure her active participation at all level of social ,cultural, economic and political ladder.MDG 3 aimed at promoting gender equality and empowering women has seen some progress and further attempts should be made to improve on it.
An empowered girl child becomes an educated, confident, employed, secure, strong and respected woman who can make informed decision. She can contribute effectively to the development of the nation and form a stable foundation for the next generation .The earlier we realise that no investment in women’s lives will be sustained until the girl child is empowered and provided for in terms of nutrition, healthcare, education and security, the better for us all!