An estimated 4.1 million girls will be subjected to female genital mutilation and about 33,000 girls under age 18 will be forced into marriage, mostly to much older men this year alone, according to United Nations Population Fund.
In their latest report dubbed ‘The State of World Population 2020; Against My Will, the UNFPA said that millions of girls are every year subjected to practices that routinely harm them, both physically and emotionally, with the full knowledge and consent of their families, friends and communities.
Meanwhile, UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem said that harmful practices against women and girls caused profound and lasting trauma in them. It also robbed them of their right to reach their full potential, she said.
The report says that the harmful practices reduced and limited the capacity of women and girls to participate fully in society and to reach their full potential. “The impact ripples throughout society and reinforces the very gender stereotypes and inequalities that gave rise to the harm in the first place.” It said.
The report highlighted on three most prevalent issues — Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and extreme bias against daughters, in favour of sons. It said that 200 million girls alive today are affected by FGM. With respect to medicalised FGM, the report said that even though it was performed by health service providers in a sterile environment, it was still a matter of risk. The report stresses that FGM can never be safe and a risk was involved in it. It said that FGM violated human rights medical ethics.
Noting that opposition to the practice was growing across the world, the report said that the proportion of girls and women in high prevalence countries who want the practice to stop has doubled in the last two decades.
On Child Marriages, the report pointed out that about 33,000 such marriages happen across the globe even though it has been universally banned.
Stating that children are either brought or sold in child marriages, the report said “child marriages are often transactional, with girls married off to a spouse to offload a burden or secure the promise of her care. In the case of dowry and bride price, these transactions are outright and financial in nature”.
“Dowries are paid by a bride’s family to the groom, nominally for the upkeep of the wife. Bride price is paid by the groom or his family to “purchase” the bride. Such practices are more common among the poor and less educated, and exacerbated in times of crisis and displacement. They reinforce and contribute to higher prevalence of child marriage because younger girls require smaller dowries or command higher bride prices—a younger woman or a girl is perceived to be more valuable in that she has more years ahead of her for childbearing and domestic service. These practices have been banned in most countries, but enforcing such bans is difficult,” the report said.
On gender bias, the report says that it was nothing new. The UNFPA said that about a quarter of all parents with two girls may resort to gender-biased sex selection to avoid the birth of a third girl.
The report warned that such preference has also led to gross imbalances in the number of men and women. It had distorted the sex-ratio balance to a large extent that several men may be unable to find partners and have children.
UNFPA Geneva Office director Monica Ferro said that all these harmful practices were based on the assumption that the rights and the well-being of women and girls are less of those of men and boys. She said that the data gathered in the report could be summarized in three words: respect, protect and fulfil.
“We must foster respect for women and girls, by changing attitudes and practices that commoditize them. We must protect women and girls by enforcing laws against practices like child marriage and female mutilation, but also by changing attitudes and norms. And governments must fulfil their obligations under human rights treaties that require elimination of these practices and rituals,” she explained.
Dr. Kanem said that the issue should be tackled looking at the root cause. “We must do a better job of supporting communities’ own efforts understand the toll these practices are taking on girls and the benefits that accrue to the whole of society by stopping them”, she said.
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