They go to school, help with housework, work in factories, make friends, care for elder and younger family members and prepare themselves to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Girls play multiple roles in the household, society and the economy. Upholding the rights of the girl child has seen increased support through the nearly global adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as through the UN Millennium Development Goals target of increasing equality between girls’ and boys’ educational attainment.
While today, equal numbers of boys and girls are receiving primary education in most of the world, few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education. According to the 2014 MDG Report in 2012, 781 million adults and 126 million youth worldwide lacked basic reading and writing skills, with women accounting for more than 60 per cent of both populations. Even when girls are encouraged to continue their education, they face major challenges that make it difficult for them to attend regularly, sometimes receiving an unequal share of the household tasks due to customary practices in many regions of the world.
Though life for the girl child is steadily improving, many are still subjected to horrific practices, such as female genital mutilation, son preference – often resulting in female infanticide – as well as child marriage, sexual exploitation and abuse. Girls are also more likely to experience discrimination in food allocation and healthcare, and are often outpaced and outranked by boys in all spheres of life. The Girl Child was also one of the 12 critical areas of concern raised in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, concluding in nine strategic objectives framed as a means of holding governments accountable for girl’s rights.
Freedom from all forms of discrimination against the girl child remains only partly fulfilled, and governments and societies must galvanize efforts if true freedom is to be won. Policies and programmes initiated must be duty-bound to take into consideration the differing, yet critical, needs of the girl child in terms of physical protection from sexual and physical exploitation, discrimination in all forms including in the field of education, and increased awareness of the struggles being faced by girls today.