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Protecting the girl child

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 11 October 2017 00:00

In comparison to some of our neighbouring countries, the majority of women in Sri Lanka may have it slightly better in terms of basic social economic indicators. In terms of parity of education right up to university and access to healthcare and employment opportunities, Sri Lankan girls enjoy better conditions than their counterparts in other parts of south Asia – although, admittedly, that says very little.

There are around 600 million girls aged 10-19 in the world, however, they run the risk of disappearing from public awareness and falling outside the international development agenda. Inequities in secondary education, issues of protection, sexual abuse, forced marriages and a lack of opportunity are just some of the issues that impact the adolescent girl.

Today marks the International Day of the Girl Child and given that this year’s theme is ‘The Power of the Adolescent Girl’, we Sri Lankans should take this opportunity to take a hard look at ourselves. Over 20,000 teenage girls are married and often have children before they reach the age of 18 years and that marks a significant problem that policymakers in this country have had to address.

Last year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) along with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) presented a joint letter, signed by over 50 UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, leading medical practitioners, academics and partners, highlighting the issues of child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Sri Lanka. It called on the Government to continue its actions to address this issue and highlighted some areas of progress. Activists believe that with continued action by the Government, and with the support of the United Nations, their partners and civil society here in Sri Lanka, the country can achieve a key objective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to “eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage”, and ultimately create a Sri Lanka where all girls can have a childhood free from discrimination and violence, and a future of opportunity and choice.

Investing in girls is a moral imperative – a matter of basic justice and equality. It is an obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It is also critical for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, advancing economic growth and building peaceful, cohesive societies.

The abuse of girls has also been a constant issue in Sri Lanka and the appearance of these incidents in the newspapers has ceased to shock people.

On average four children, mostly girls, are abused in Sri Lanka every day. Such damning numbers are the main reason why the Government needs to move beyond making empty promises and implementing sustainable social policies that actively minimise and punish child offences. The legal processes in most of these cases are inefficient and completely insensitive towards the victims and their families.

Clearly there is a need to take a holistic approach by fast-tracking the Police and legal process as well as increasing awareness and ensuring that children are educated against the menace around them. The fact that most abuses are committed by adults close to the family is an indication of how high the level of vigilance should be. Moving forward, we as Sri Lankans must look inward and strive to create a society that affords all its members the same dignity, freedom, and opportunity. Investing in the wellbeing and prosperity of the girl child will no doubt have a positive ripple effect on both our society and economy and it is up to us to seek the necessary change.

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