The 1990 World Summit for Children placed the survival, development and protection of the girl child on the international agenda. It acknowledged that equal rights for girls and the equal participation of women in the social, cultural, economic and political life of societies were prerequisites for successful and sustainable development.
The Beijing Platform for Action noted that discrimination and violence against girls began at the earliest stages of life, and continued through childhood into adult life. Fewer girls than boys survived into adulthood because of harmful attitudes and practices, such as son preference resulting in prenatal sex selection and female infanticide, female genital mutilation, early marriage including child marriage, violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, discriminatory food allocation and other practices related to health and well-being. The outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly identified child labour, violence, lack of access to education, and sexual abuse as obstacles the girl child continued to face and called for the creation of an environment that did not tolerate violations of the rights of women and girls.
The General Assembly has regularly addressed the situation of the girl child, including through resolutions on traditional and customary practices affecting the health of women and girls, and trafficking in women and girls. In resolution 60/141 of 16 December 2005 on the girl child, the Assembly expressed deep concern about the discrimination and violation of the rights of the girl child, which placed girls at a disadvantage compared to boys with respect to education, nutrition, physical and mental health care, curtailed their rights, denied them the opportunities and benefits of childhood and adolescence and subjected them to various forms of cultural, social, sexual and economic exploitation. The Assembly also voiced concern that girls were among the most adversely affected by poverty and armed conflict.
Two studies submitted to the General Assembly at its sixty-first session drew attention to violence faced by girls. The report of the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children noted that girls are at greater risk than boys of early marriage, genital mutilation, forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence, and forced prostitution. The study called on States to ensure that anti-violence policies and programmes are designed and implemented with a gender perspective, taking into account the different risks facing boys and girls in respect to violence. The Secretary-General’s in-depth study on violence against women underlined that a woman may experience various forms of violence across her life cycle. It highlighted particular forms of violence against girls and young women, such as son preference, prenatal sex selection, female infanticide, early marriage and forced marriage and dowry-related violence. It also pointed to sites where such violence occurs, for example within the family, in the community including in schools, and in conflict settings. The study drew attention to new and emerging forms of violence including “date rape”.
The safety of girls is often jeopardized in the family, community and in educational institutions, in the very spaces that are supposed to provide them with safety, and at the hands of individuals and institutions charged with their protection. The risk of sexual abuse at home and in the community is greater for girls than boys. According to a multi-country study by the World Health Organization (WHO), conducted in both developed and developing countries, a large percentage of women reported having been sexually abused before the age of 15, in most cases by male family members other than the father or stepfather. The Secretary-General’s in-depth study on violence against women draws attention to sexual harassment and violence against girls and young women in educational institutions. Sexual and gender-based violence that occurs in educational settings is mostly directed against girls by male teachers and classmates. Girls who engage in sports may face the risk of gender-based violence, exploitation and harassment. Some groups of girls are particularly disadvantaged and at greater risk of discrimination and violence, including adolescent girls, migrant girls, girls with disability or girls in detention. Poverty can be a major underlying factor in the increased risk of some girls to violence and threats to their well-being and development.
The empowerment of girls is key to breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and protecting and promoting their human rights. Empowerment entails a process whereby girls gain more control over their lives, become active members of their communities and are able to make informed choices about issues that directly affect them. Supporting the empowerment of girls entails the elimination of all barriers that prevent them from developing their full potential, including through the provision of equal access to, and full participation in, education and training, health services, community activities, and girl-friendly spaces for interaction with their peers.