Ipas Africa Southern Region (ASR) joined the world to commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child reflecting on this year’s theme: Invest in Girls’ Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being.
The United Nations General Assembly on 19 December 2011, adopted Resolution 66/170 declaring October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, recognizing girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.
It critically looks at the challenges that girls face and how as a community at all levels, we can address the challenges and promote the girl child’s empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.
“As Ipas we believe that investment in Girls Rights needs to appreciate the myriad of challenges that girls face in a society that does not recognize their sexual and reproductive health needs and their bodily autonomy,” said Petronella Ntambo Sebele, Ipas Africa Southern Region Director.
A reflection of unmet contraception needs
According to UNICEF, one in every five girls is married or in an informal union before age 18. Country-specific statistics note that in Malawi and Zambia, 42% of girls are married before the age of 18, and in Malawi, 9% are married before the age of 15 years. In South Africa, about 6% of girls marry before the age of 18 years, while 1% by the age of 15 years.
“Early child marriages remain a challenge inhibiting many young girls from enjoying their human rights, education rights, and a better future. The outcomes of child marriages are unintended pregnancies leading to unsafe abortion, one of the leading causes of maternal deaths worldwide,” said Ntambo Sebele.
Unintended pregnancies reflect the unmet contraception needs and other family planning methods. According to UNICEF contraception, family planning needs including modern methods and modern family planning needs of adolescent girls have slowly increased from 55% to 60% since 2012. Therefore, 4 in 10 adolescent girls aged 15-19 looking at preventing pregnancy are not using modern contraception methods, leaving them at a high risk of conception and teenage pregnancy and high mortality of adolescent girls during childbirth.
Early child marriages are driven by poverty, harmful social norms, and the vulnerability of girls and women. Early child marriages expose girls and adolescent girls to fistulas as their pelvic organs are not mature enough to hold the pregnancies and delivery.
Most girls who are in child marriages do not get an education higher than the mandated primary school education of grades 1 to 9 due to social stereotypes that categorise girls as domestic wives. Statistics, tell us that one in five girls are still not completing lower secondary, and four in 10 girls are not completing secondary school. Moreover, child marriages increase vulnerability to domestic violence, HIV, and sexually transmitted diseases.
“Ipas ASR calls on the governments in the SADC region and the communities to invest in upholding girls and adolescent girls’ rights by ensuring that child marriages are abolished, and that sexual and reproductive health services are accessible to all who need them,” added Ntambo Sebele.
Ensuring girls enjoy their rights and have bodily autonomy will also create an equitable and prosperous future, where girls have access to education and are free from gender-based violence.
Ipas ASR works to empower women and girls to achieve bodily autonomy and reproductive justice. Ipas ASR advocates for sexual and reproductive health including safe abortion services.