Violence Against the Girl Child

                                                                                 Last updated June 2010

Global violence uniquely affects the girl child. Although international legal instruments have been in place for decades to protect the girl child, thousands of brutal acts of violence and neglect specifically targeting the girl child can be observed around the world on a daily basis. For centuries, girls who have barely attained adolescence have been forced into marriage, often with men many years their senior. As a minor, a girl child cannot legally give her consent to enter into such a partnership. They have suffered in female genital mutilation rituals. They are traded, bought, and sold across national borders as commodities to be put to use as prostitutes or slaves, or merely to be sold again at a profit. Many girls are even victimized before birth, as technology and greater access to medicine have given rise to prenatal sex selection and selection abortion based on sex. Girls continue to face the threat of sexual harassment and abuse in workplaces and schools. Their lives may be taken for the “honor” of their families for speaking to strangers or committing other minor transgressions. Violence against the girl child has become a powerful and all-too-common tactic in times of war and humanitarian disaster.
Violence against the girl child is perpetrated on every continent, wielded by every social and economic class, and sanctioned to varying degrees by every form of government, every major religion, and every kind of communal or familial structure. There is no place of complete refuge for the girl child, only promises of stronger legal regimes and more robust non-governmental assistance.
Forced/Child Marriage
Forced and child marriages entrap women and young girls in relationships that deprive them of their basic human rights.  Forced marriage constitutes a human rights violation in and of itself.  Many young girls are forced to leave the homes of their parents and take on the adult role of wife when they are still children themselves. The Convention on Consent to Marriage recalls that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “[m]arriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” In applying this principle, the parties to the Convention on Consent to Marriage agree in Article 1 that “[n]o marriage shall be legally entered into without the full and free consent of both parties, such consent to be expressed by them in person after due publicity in the presence of authority competent to solemnize the marriage and of witnesses, as prescribed by law.” The Convention goes on to state that “State Parties to the present Convention shall take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage. No marriage shall be legally entered into by any person under this age, except where a competent authority has granted a dispensation as to age, for serious reasons, in the interest of the intending spouses.”
Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation is a widespread practice in parts of the world. It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been victims of female genital mutilation. Each year, 3 million girls are subjected to the practice in Africa. From: Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet, World Health Organization (Fact sheet N°241) (February 2010). Female genital mutilation is commonly referred to as “FGM,” and is also sometimes referred to as female genital cutting, or “FGC.” From: Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, Innocenti Research Center, United Nations Children's Fund (2 May 2008). Female genital mutilation includes all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. From: Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet, World Health Organization (Fact sheet N°241) (February 2010).
It is a practice that “violates a series of well-established human rights principles, norms and standards, including the principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex, the right to life when the procedure results in death, and the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” From: Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, An Interagency Statement, World Health Organization, 9 (2008) (PDF, 48 pages).
The practice has no health benefits for girls and women, but it has severe health consequences and is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. There are severe physical and emotional complications associated with female genital mutilation
Sexual Exploitation, Prostitution, and Trafficking
Sexual exploitation, trafficking, and prostitution present significant risks to the girl child’s mental and physical health.  Numerous counties and organizations, including the United States and the United Nations, have monitored and begun initiatives to end the practices.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) defines a child as: a “human being below the age of 18 years, unless under the law applicable to that child, majority is attained earlier.”  Further, the Convention defines trafficking as: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, or fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs…”  While UNICEF’s initiative to stop child trafficking includes boys in addition to girls, the commission notes that girls are at far greater risk for certain types of trafficking, including domestic labor and the sex trade.
Prenatal Sex Selection
The discriminatory practice of prenatal sex selection, or sex-selective abortion, occurs when the sex of a fetus is the determining factor in whether that fetus will be aborted or carried to term. Prenatal sex selection is a two-step process.  Step one involves identifying the sex of the fetus through amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling, or ultrasound. Step two consists of aborting the fetus based solely on the identification of the fetus as female. While prenatal sex selection may be done for medical reasons (for example, to prevent sex-specific genetic disorders such as hemophilia), it is also based on cultural and discriminatory considerations.
The rise in prenatal sex selection in certain parts of the world, specifically India and East Asia, can be observed via the Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB). The SRB measures male births per 100 female births, and a rate of 102-106 is considered normal by most standards according to the United Nations Population Fund. However, prenatal sex selection in some parts of the world is leading to an alarming increase in SRB. Not only do increased rates create problems for these populations in the future, including large populations of unmarried men, increases in female trafficking, and increases in mail-order brides, but they are also emblematic of girl children who, as a result of discrimination, were terminated before birth.
Sexual Harassment in Schools and the Workplace
Sexual Harassment is a violation of women's human rights and a prohibited form of violence against women. Sexual harassment causes incalculable economic, psychological and physical harm to its victims and serves to reinforce the subordination of women to men in the workplace. Sexual harassment against the girl child is prevalent both in the workplace and at school. Girl children who are employed as domestic workers or as industrial laborers are vulnerable to sexual harassment and exploitation by their employers. Girl children who attend school are often victimized by teachers or their peers.
Crimes Committed in the Name of "Honor"
Thousands of girl children around the world are killed each year for committing or being capable of committing transgressions deemed to be dishonorable. "Honor" killings are defined by the Human Rights Watch as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.”
Motives for "honor" killings have included: suspicion of adultery, premarital sex, or some other relationship between a woman and a man; being a victim of rape or sexual assault; refusing to enter an arranged marriage; seeking divorce or trying to escape marital violence; and falling in love with someone who is unacceptable to the victim’s family according to The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women.
Sexual Assault in Conflict and Humanitarian Situations
War's most vulnerable victim is the girl child. Girl children in war zones and conflict areas too often become dehumanized pawns, to be systematically raped and tortured as a tactical “message” of war; forced into sexual slavery by soldiers or opportunists; forced into pregnancy, abortion, or sterilization as a means of ethnic cleansing; wounded; maimed; mutilated; murdered; infected with HIV or STIs; orphaned; displaced. Governmental and international organizations, as well as NGOs, have identified the problems  and are attempting to correct and monitor the situations. Many humanitarian camps have been set up for the dislocated, but getting to the camps and surviving inside them are fraught with additional peril.
Compiled from: Convention on Consent to Marriage, United Nations (7 November 1962); Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations (10 December 1948); Female genital mutilation, StopVAW (2010); Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet, World Health Organization (February 2010); Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, Innocenti Research Center, United Nations Children's Fund (2 May 2008); Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet, World Health Organization (February 2010); Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, An Interagency Statement, World Health Organization (2008); Guidance Note on Prenatal Sex Selection, United Nations Population Fund (2010); Sexual Harassment, StopVAW (2010); Item 12- Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence against Women and "Honor" Crimes, Human Rights Watch (5 April 2001); Honor Killings, StopVAW (2010);The Six Grave Violations Against Children During Armed Conflict: The Legal Foundation, Office of the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, United Nations (October 2009).