Today, governments, international development agencies and people around the world are celebrating the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child, a day adopted unanimously last year by the United Nations General Assembly.
Many people will ask if we really need another international day in the calendar. We already have plenty of official UN days and religious holidays and greeting-card occasions. So why institute an International Day of the Girl Child?
The answer is simple: We don’t pay enough attention to the unique difficulties and specific problems faced by girls, especially girls born in developing countries. We also don’t pay sufficient attention to underlying power relations and gender issues within communities.
On this day, however we speak for girls with one voice. On this day, we spotlight gender issues in our region.
We need to face up to these difficulties and find solutions—real solutions—that ensure that girls have the same chances in life as boys do. We cannot allow girls to be forgotten at a time when the development priorities for the next generation are being decided. Every girl should have the opportunity to complete her education and choose her future.
Globally, one-third of girls are denied their right to an education by the daily realities of poverty, violence, discrimination, and child and forced marriages. These girls are missing out on an education right at the time when they have the power to transform their lives and the world.
This is not only unjust but is also a huge waste of potential, one with a tragic impact upon girls and far-reaching consequences beyond.
Girls make up the majority of the 67 million children globally who are not in school right now. They are far less likely than boys to go to secondary school; in fact, they often find themselves married and running a household by the time they are 14. In Nepal, half of girls under 18 are married. And when they get pregnant this young, maternal mortality soars.
Girls, especially those out of school, experience more violence and sexual harassment than boys do, just because they are girls. They are more likely to be trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and more vulnerable to contracting HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections.
Currently, more than half of Nepal’s 2.6 million working children are girls. Most forego their education to help support their families, putting themselves at risk of abuse and exploitation.
Giving girls the chance to get a non-formal education opens up possibilities for them to participate in the job market and become economically independent, thereby escaping the claws of traffickers. In fact, supporting girls’ education is one of the best investments we can make to help them escape the cycle of poverty.
For each year that a girl stays in school, her income will rise by 15 to 20 percent. With the opportunity to earn a living, she will pull herself and her children out of poverty as she invests what she earns in their health, education and future.
Simply put, if we ensure girls are given the same opportunities as boys from the moment they are born, we help them become empowered women, mothers, workers and leaders.
An educated girl is less vulnerable to violence and less likely to marry and have children when still a child herself and more likely to be literate and healthy, as are her children. It is no exaggeration to say that education can save lives and transform future.
In its 11 October celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child, the global child-centered development organization Plan International officially kicks off its five-year Because I am a Girl campaign, which aims to help 4 million girls to get the education, skills and support they need to transform their lives.
Plan works with girls and boys, communities, teachers, traditional leaders, governments, global institutions, and the private sector to enable children to participate in decision-making and inspire action and funding for girls’ education.
Plan will equip schools, train teachers, fund scholarships and influence decision-makers so that girls receive a primary and secondary education of good quality. It will work to eradicate child marriage and violence in schools and empower communities to speak out against and governments to take action to stop these iniquitous practices.
Plan Nepal works to ensure that more girls stay in school and out of harm’s way. It promotes basic education and seeks an end to child marriage, violence and human trafficking. The International Day of the Girl will encourage stakeholders around the world to give extra attention to these issues.
This special day will focus the world’s attention on the importance of girls’ rights and ensure that they get the investment and recognition they deserve.
The writer is Nepal director for Plan International. Plan has worked in Nepal since 1978 .