Today is the International Day of the Girl Child (IDG), and Africa joins the world to observe the day.
This year’s theme is EmPOWER Girls: before, during and after crises. According to Care International 2016 report, Empowering Women and Girls affected by crisis, women and girls are the ones who suffer the most in crises. The United Nations (UN) says “the world’s 1.1 billion girls are a source of power, energy, and creativity – and the millions of girls in emergencies are no exception”. The International Day of the Girl “marks the beginning of a year-long effort to spur global attention and action to the challenges and opportunities girls face before, during, and after crises,” the UN adds.
Due to social injustice and gender inequality, women and girls are highly vulnerable and without the power to protect themselves as well as to reduce their risk to future disasters.
The situation does not change after emergencies as most girls are exposed to trafficking, early marriages, rape and other forms of violence. The International Rescue Committee conducted a research in 2003 that showed that 74% of girls and women interviewed reported having an incident of sexual violence before being displaced and 66% experienced at least one sexual violence incident during displacement. There have been cases of sexual abuse in countries facing crisis including Congo and South Sudan.
Assessment of and response to most emergency cases usually overlook the needs of girls and women, making it harder for them to get help. It is from this perspective that UN Resolution 1325 was adopted in 2000 to ensure that such responses and assessment take into consideration the needs of women and girls.
The resolution further calls for the adoption of a gender perspective when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, which includes the consideration of special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement as well as the placement of measures to ensure the protection and respect for the human rights of women and girls.
A consequence of crises and emergencies to most girls is a combination of disrupted education, social exclusion and discrimination, lack of legal identity and legal status. All these create an uncertain future riddled with lack of access to appropriate and inclusive services, whether as refugees, migrants and children of immigrant families.
Consequently, girls face risks such as child labour and child marriage as a coping mechanism and as a way to secure their future, according to UNICEF’s 2016 report, Uprooted: Growing Crisis for Refugee and Migrant Children.
“For the children involved, these coping mechanisms have dangerous short- and long-term implications. In the immediate term, child labour and marriage both put children at increased risk of physical and emotional abuse. Both practices also reduce the likelihood that a child will complete schooling, a reality that can have cascading negative repercussions throughout a child’s life, including earlier childbearing, worse health outcomes and lower income,” the report reads.
It is, therefore, the responsibility of states to establish and implement policies and strategies to ensure and respect the rights of every child in their jurisdiction without regard to the child’s status. States should also ensure that protection of girls and women is not limited during crises but extended post-crises to ensure that girls are able to resume their normal lives.