International Day of the Girl Child
This October 11, 2022 marks another year of the International Day of the Girl Child, and presents us with an opportunity to take a global look at the challenges facing girls and the progress needed to ensure full recognition and realization of their rights.
The confluence of the effects of the pandemic, the climate crisis and conflicts and humanitarian crises have led to a general worsening of the state of girls’ rights. Globally, there has been a major violation of educational rights, significant deficits in the physical and psychological well-being of girls, and a consequent lack of social protection to care for them.
On this occasion, we expose child marriage as one of the major regressions of girls’ rights during this period, and present education as a key factor of transformation.
UNICEF estimates that around 23 million girls are married each year before the age of 15(1). Although the numbers of forced child marriages have declined over the past three decades as a result of international cooperation efforts and the expansion of women’s and girls’ rights, the pandemic has significantly increased the risk of child marriage. In fact, about 10 million child marriages are expected to occur over the next decade(2).
Most of these girls are in vulnerable settings and with high levels of social exclusion, especially in rural, poor and developing countries. In addition, the economic shock, school closures and limitation of essential health and social protection services that preceded the pandemic have exacerbated the risk of more child marriages. Indeed, in times of crisis, many families employ child marriage as a strategy to mitigate the economic pressures they are under.
Add to this the fact that COVID-19 has limited access to education and schools, and the effects are devastating. UNICEF estimates that school closures increase the risk of child marriage by 25% per year(3) and reverse the progress made on female genital mutilation by a third(4), among other practices that imply a total violation of girls’ rights. In addition, child marriages expose girls more frequently to early pregnancies, resulting in a higher risk of pregnancy- and childbirth-related mortality for girls between 15 and 19 years of age, estimated at around 50,000 deaths each year.
It is important to stress the importance of the international community’s efforts to incorporate advances at the legal level, and a dialogue with the communities themselves to establish alternative measures in education, for example, to alleviate the effects of child marriage. These strategies have proven to have positive effects in places as disparate as Niger, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, among many others, where the incidence of child marriage is high(5).
Education is a transformative factor for the full development of girls’ rights, and brings great benefits to societies as a whole. With higher levels of education, girls are more likely to have a higher quality of life, higher income levels, be involved in decision-making and be able to be part of social, political and economic change. In addition, we can see how education helps generate more robust economies and minimizes inequalities.
However, access to education goes far beyond participation in the learning process. Instead, schools are key spaces for promoting economic empowerment, preventing child marriages and early pregnancies, and detecting violations of their most fundamental rights. As a result of COVID-19, an estimated 129 million girls are out of school. Girls living in conflict-ridden countries are twice as likely to be out of school.
Finally, GATE Center supports the efforts of the international community to achieve full equality of girls’ rights through increased investment in education and the development of multi-stakeholder strategies to protect girls’ rights.