11 October 2014

Ending violence against girls

If we are to end violence against girls, we much 
change attitudes towards this issue

Today is international day of the girl child. In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child, drawing attention to girls’ rights and the unique challenges that girls around the world face.

Girls face discrimination, violence and abuse every day across the world. And for adolescent girls, the statistics are disturbing. Around 120 million girls under 20 (one in 10) have experienced rape or other forced sexual acts. One in three ever-married adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners. Almost one quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide report being victims of some form of physical violence. Nearly two out of three younger adolescent girls aged 10 to 14 are subjected to corporal punishment on a regular basis, and adolescent girls continue to experience corporal punishment by parents into late adolescence and at the same time become prone to acts of physical aggression by intimate partners.

Sadly, we see this happening in Mongolia. Working in child protection I hear heartbreaking stories of violence against girls all too often. One recent story, was that of a 19 year old girl, a mother of a three year old child, who was murdered by her abusive partner. During their three-year relationship, she had endured horrific physical, sexual and emotional violence. She had ended their relationship, moved towns and was rebuilding her life. She had even started studying again. Tragically her partner found her, and when she refused to resume the relationship, he killed her.

This is an all too common story, and violence is currently one of the biggest issues affecting girls in Mongolia. We know that when a girl experiences violence, her choices and opportunities are limited and the effects of that can last throughout her lifetime and extend to future generations.

It is important that we break this cycle. In Mongolia, efforts are being made to address violence against girls. The Government has finished revising the law on Combating Domestic Violence. This new version of the law criminalizes domestic violence, incorporates clear provisions for the protection of children in the home and offers clear procedures for protection of victims and survivors. These changes are an important step forward, in addressing violence against girls and other vulnerable groups.

Moreover, the Government is developing a stand-alone child protection law. The cabinet has already endorsed a concept note for the law which allows it to proceed to the drafting stage. UNICEF is strongly advocating that a ban on corporal punishment in all settings is included in this law.

Practical steps to help victims and survivors are also being taken. One of the best examples is the nationwide toll free, 24/7 child helpline, which was launched earlier this year. The three-digit number was established by the Government in cooperation with World Vision, Mobicom (a telecom company) and UNICEF. Callers talk to a trained operators, who can provide them with over the phone support and when necessary make reports to child protection services. Since the launch in June, over 20,000 calls have been received not only from children, but neighbors, teachers, friends are also reporting concerns about child protection issues.

The child helpline is a big step towards creating a comprehensive child protection system in Mongolia. UNICEF is providing technical support to train the operators and to develop the guidelines and standards for the services to ensure adequate referral mechanisms and caseworkers are linked to this helpline. The Government is working to improve the response services mechanisms at national, sub-national and community levels.

While these efforts are great, more needs to be done. In order to fully understand the problem, we need better information on prevalence, drivers and consequences of violence against girls. Better information will help make this issue which is so often hidden, visible. Only with this information and a greater investment in research, will we be able to design effective interventions to end violence against girls.

One of the greatest challenges we face is changing attitudes towards this issue. Globally, nearly half of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 think a husband or partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife of partner in certain circumstances. While these attitudes prevail, we will not be able to end violence against girls. This is not an issue for girls to fix; it needs everyone in society to be part of the solution, from family members, teachers, community leaders and friends - we are all responsible for ending violence against girls.

In Mongolia adolescent girls make up nine per cent of the country’s population. While there is a great culture and history of respecting and educating girls in Mongolia, we are not doing enough to ensure all their rights, guaranteed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, are protected. It’s in our hands to create safe and supportive environments, where girls can thrive.

Amaraa Dorjsambuu is the Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Mongolia

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