Despite the discrimination they face, girls under the age of 18 years have been overlooked by international law, Plan International said on Wednesday. The international NGO studied 1,300 international legal sources and found that fewer than 8% of the 70,000 paragraphs it analysed made specific reference to girls, even though they are affected by many types of discrimination, such as childhood marriage, genital mutilation, undesired pregnancies, and sexual aggression.
The NGO noted that 28 girls under the age of 18 are married every minute in the world, more than three million are subjected to excision each year and 131 million do not go to school. The protection that international law offers girls is inversely proportional to the magnitude of the problems they experience, Plan adds.
“The UN Convention on the rights of the child is a good example,” comments Anthony Vanoverschelde, chief of advocacy for Plan International Belgium. “It makes no mention of girls. During the negotiations, practices such as preference for boys and the killing of new-born girls were not dealt with. And the Convention is silent on child marriages, which affect mainly girls.”
The NGO is particularly critical of the “reservations” raised by States party to international treaties, often for cultural or religious reasons. It notes that Convention on the rights of women was ratified by 189 countries, but 48 expressed reservations and 16 stated that they were not in agreement with the article on equal rights within the marriage.
The same situation was repeated in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015: one-third of the reservations to these goals have to do with gender equality and sexual rights.
Plan International feels that if authorities want to use international law to fight against the selective application of girls’ rights, they need to go against patriarchal, traditional and religious norms that feed into discrimination. The NGO also recommends the designation of a special UN rapporteur to analyse and report on girls’ rights and the violation of such rights.