The Beijing Declaration enumerates 12 areas of concern for women. Some of these are: violence against women, women and health, women in conflict, women and the environment, and of course, the girl child.

Today, movements that seek to enhance the rights of girls have grown and take various forms, from government-sponsored policy, to social media campaigns that result in sweeping, tangible change. A lot of these impactful movements are organised by young girls and address issues like human trafficking, climate change, education, safe water, child marriage, and gender-based violence. These phenomenal women are using their voice, once stifled by cultural norms and systemic exclusion, to bring about change in their communities and across the world. 

Indeed, girls today are faring better than they were in 1995, with incremental achievements by and for girls to allow them to better enjoy access to all rights. Examples of this are the enrolment of more girls in school, and completing their schooling. The growing movements to de-stigmatise menstruation means less girls are skipping school. More girls are exposed to skills and training which allow them to compete professionally with their male counterparts on relatively equal footing. Globally, fewer girls are taken as child brides and the knock-on effect of this is that fewer are becoming mothers while they themselves are still children. Impressive progress has been made in the abolition of female genital mutilation, saving the lives and dignity of thousands of girls. 

However, despite these positive steps evidenced by the figures, there are still a concerning number of girls who do not have access to basic human rights. 

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), globally, the total number of girls married in childhood is estimated at 12 million per year. An additional 150 million will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030, if more is not done. Further, 130 million girls worldwide are still out of school and approximately 15 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have experienced forced sex. 

Closer to home, the South African Crime Stats state that children make up 46.5% of all reported sexual assault cases, the majority of which are girls. Girls and women in South Africa are four times more likely to be HIV-positive than boys and men, which may force them to drop out of school. Violence against girls in school is a serious issue in South Africa. Girls face sexual harassment and assault in schools from both fellow students and teachers. These occurrences cause girls to fear going to school, and some to stop going altogether. Girls cannot learn well under these circumstances. The horrors are endless. 

On this International Day of the Girl, the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CFCR) applauds all the young girls using whatever resources they have to call for social, economic and political change. The CFCR also stands with the various civil society organisations working tirelessly to protect and promote the rights of young girls. 

By Ms Rebecca Sibanda: Legal Officer, Centre for Constitutional Rights
11 October 2019