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International Day of the Girl: Joint statement by the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: Protecting and empowering girls and demanding equality

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Geneva, 11 October 2019 - On International Day of the Girl, we call on States to better protect and advance the rights of girls, by ensuring full compliance with their obligations and withdrawing reservations under both the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, two mutually reinforcing conventions that constitute the cornerstone of girls’ rights.

2019 marks the 30th and 40th anniversaries of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, respectively. The Committees welcome the progress made towards the realisation of girls’ rights since the adoption of the two aforementioned conventions and refer to the joint general recommendation No. 31 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and general comment No. 18 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on harmful practices. Nevertheless, despite milestone agreements and numerous promises to tackle gender inequality and discrimination against girls, there remains considerable challenges across all regions in the protection of girls’ fundamental rights and freedoms.

Each year, approximately 12 million girls under 18 are married; and at least 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM (1). These harmful practices are a severe violation of girls’ human rights and jeopardize their right to education, health, and to live free from violence (2). Child marriage rates increase significantly during conflict (3). In conflict zones, armed groups recruit or abduct girls and women and girls for forced marriages, domestic servitude, and trafficking for sexual purposes and exploitation (4). Women and girls represent 94% of victims globally who are trafficked for sexual exploitation. In many countries following conflicts, there is a rise in the number of women and girls forced to sell sex, including exploitation of adolescent girls and young women (5). Already, outside periods of crisis, girls represent about 77% of detected children who are trafficked. Girls are almost 2.5 times as likely to be out of school if they live in conflict situations (6) when already, globally, one in ten girls does not complete primary education (7). In addition, adolescent girls are at greatest risk of rape and/or forced sex within the context of intimate partner relationships (8).

Girls face challenges unique to their age and gender (9). This double burden of discrimination stops them from fulfilling their rights, making decisions and experiencing equality. Since early childhood, girls are constrained by gender norms, often enforced by fear and violence. They are silenced and discriminated against because of beliefs about girls’ abilities, interests and behaviour. Moreover, adolescent girls are disproportionately affected by and vulnerable to sexual and reproductive health and rights violations due to entrenched gender inequalities, discriminatory gender norms and stereotypes, unequal power relations and the lower value attributed to girls in many societies.

Gender equality is at the centre of the Member States’ commitments enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular Goal 5. In this landmark agreement, Member States decided to “adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels”. Achieving gender equality is not a stand-alone goal. Goal 5 on gender equality cuts across the entire SDG framework as a principle recognizing that girls’ equality and participation are preconditions to achieve all the Goals.

Through our General Comments and Recommendations, both Committees have stated that harmful practices and violence against girls are deeply rooted in discriminatory social attitudes according to which girls are regarded as inferior to boys based on stereotyped roles (10). During adolescence, gender inequalities become more significant, and manifestations of discrimination, inequality and stereotyping against girls often intensify, leading to more serious violations of their rights (11).

Therefore, discrimination and violence experienced by girls of all ages requires specific attention, focus and interventions to meet their needs and realize the full range of their rights. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child urge States to take action to eliminate discrimination against girls in all areas, promote and ensure girls’ equal rights, by inter alia:

  • Fully complying with their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and withdraw their reservations to these Conventions;
  • Adopting age-sensitive and gender-transformative approaches and implementing policies and legislation focussed on girls;
  • Articulating girls’ specific needs when developing policies, laws, budget priorities and programmes, and considering cultural context and multiple and intersecting factors of exclusion that may result in increased marginalisation, including disability and conflict situations.
  • Listening to girls of all ages both in the public and private spheres, taking action on their concerns, through youth movements and ensuring they can meaningfully contribute to decision-making processes on global issues, such as climate change, weapons proliferation and the digital economy;
  • Ensuring access to complete, inclusive, empowering, free, safe, quality and compulsory education up to the secondary level, access to all levels of education and the availability of vocational training; eliminating gender disparities; ensuring informed access to new technologies and appropriate digital skills; and investing in gender-responsive education systems in order to enter both public and private employment.

We reiterate that it is of paramount importance that States comply with the existing international legal standards recognizing that the human rights of girls are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.

  1. These high rates of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) and FGM/C are the result of a perceived need to control female sexuality, which stems from patriarchal structures and power relations. Plan International’s SRHR position paper https://plan-international.org/publications/sexual-reproductive-health-rights#download-options.
  2. UNICEF. https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-marriage/.
  3. UNICEF (2017). Falling through the Cracks: the Children of Yemen. https://reliefweb.int/node/1960779/
  4. UNODC (2016). Global report on trafficking in persons. https://reliefweb.int/node/1836994/
  5. Plan International (2013). The State of the World’s Girls 2013: In Double Jeopardy. https://reliefweb.int/node/607306/
  6. Education for All (2015). Global Monitoring report: Policy Paper 21. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000233557
  7. World Bank (2018). The high cost of not educating girls. https://reliefweb.int/node/2693634/
  8. UNICEF (2017). A Familiar Face: Violence in the lives of children and adolescents. https://reliefweb.int/node/2288884/
  9. A 2018 research “Girls Rights are Human Rights” from Plan International reveals the extent to which international law overlooks girls’ rights, effectively rendering girls invisible.
  10. Joint general recommendation No. 31 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women/general comment No. 18 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on harmful practices. See https://reliefweb.int/node/710691/
  11. General comment No. 20 (2016) on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence See, CRC/C/GC/20 para. 27.