Effects of Harmful Practices

last updated June 2010

 A study by the Secretary General of the United Nations showed that the most significant consequence of harmful practices is that girls are disadvantaged throughout their life cycle - from “womb to tomb.” Before birth, approximately 5 million girls are aborted in India alone because of sex-selective abortions; in infancy, thousands are victims of infanticide; in childhood, many become victims of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; in adolescence, they may be forced to marry and have children before they are ready; as wives, they may be victims of domestic violence; in widowhood, they may be abused or harassed in various ways if their husband dies; and throughout their lives, depression as a result of living under these conditions is common.

Health Consequences
Health consequences include poor reproductive health, suicide attempts, social and sexual dysfunction, and alcohol abuse. UNESCAP has found that girls’ rights to education, health, and economic independence have been compromised through early marriage in places like South Asia where more than 30% of girls are married between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. According to the organization Women Living Under Muslim Laws, in addition to having the highest maternal mortality in the world, self-immolation, in which women set themselves on fire as a way to draw attention to or escape from the violence they experience, is one of the worst consequences of harmful practices seen in Afghanistan.

Psychological Effects
According to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR), harmful practices like son preference tend to have a negative psychological impact on young girls as they begin to believe the low status given them by society makes them less valuable than boys. Furthermore, where son preference is prevalent, there is consistent evidence that the health of the female child is affected. Researchers have found higher rates of morbidity and malnutrition for female infants in such communities, which results in the developmental impairment of girls. 
Effects on Education
The consequences of this harmful practice are also seen in education. Where access to education may not be a significant problem, researchers have found that a society’s values, which may depict women as passive and males as dominant, may be found in the curriculum. In evaluating drop-out rates worldwide, the OHCHR has found that in countries where drop-out rates may be decreasing, girls are more likely than boys to drop out as they are often given in marriage at a young age and required to help with housework, and parents are generally indifferent to their education. 

Effects on Lifestyle
Harmful practices also tend to result in fewer recreational opportunities for girls and women. This is particularly true of girls and women in the rural areas who are expected to stay close to home. 
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (n.d.). Fact Sheet No.23, Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children.
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. (2007). "Violence against women: Harmful traditional and cultural practices in the Asian and Pacific region."
Women living under Muslim laws. (2010). Afghanistan: Harmful practices against women pervasive.