Today governments, international development agencies and people around the world are celebrating the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child, a resolution adopted unanimously last year by the United Nations General Assembly.
Here in Vietnam I hope we too can add our support to this important day.
The answer to why we need it is simple – because we don't pay enough attention to the specific difficulties and problems faced by girls.
We need to face up to these difficulties and find real solutions to ensure girls have the same opportunities in life as boys. We cannot allow girls to be forgotten at a time when development priorities for the next generation are being decided.
Globally, one-third of girls are denied their right to an education by the daily realities of poverty, violence, discrimination, and harmful practices. Girls are missing out on an education at a time when they have the power to transform their lives and the world around them. It is a huge, unjust waste of potential.
Girls are less likely to attend primary school than boys and even less likely to attend secondary school. They make up the majority of the 67 million children globally not currently in school.
Meanwhile girls out of school are more vulnerable to trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation and exploitative labor. Giving vulnerable girls greater access to education increases their options in the job market and keeps them from the clutches of traffickers.
Supporting girls’ education is one of the best investments we can make. If we ensure girls are given the same opportunities as boys from the moment they are born, we help them and their families break the cycle of poverty, giving them the chance to become empowered women, mothers, workers and leaders. For each year a girl stays in school, her eventual income will rise by 10 to 20 percent.
With these objectives in mind, Plan International officially kicks off its “Because I am a Girl” five-year campaign on Thursday (October 11). The aim is to support four million girls in receiving the education, skills and support they need to transform their lives.
We are working with girls and boys, communities, teachers, leaders, governments, global institutions, and the private sector to enable children to participate in decision making and inspiring action as well as pushing for increased funding for girls’ education.
We sensitize parents, equip schools and train teachers so girls receive both a quality pre-primary, primary and secondary education. We are adamant about seeking an end to child and forced marriage and violence in schools, empowering communities to speak out and governments to take action to stop these practices.
In Vietnam early marriage among ethnic minority girls remains very common. A significant number of girls drop out at 14 or 15 to marry or provide domestic labor. This is a common in spite of child marriage not being permitted by Vietnamese law.
Additionally, in Vietnam, gender-based violence (GBV) is widespread. Some 58 percent of women have experienced at least one form of abuse. Violence experienced by adolescent girls in Vietnam takes place against this backdrop and stems, in part, from a violent history, societal attitudes and unequal power relationships. The impact of such violence causes damage to adolescent girls’ physical and psychological health as well as effecting school attendance and academic achievement. Girls, more than boys, are sexually assaulted, abused and harassed by their classmates and even by teachers.
Recent research conducted by the Institute for Social Development Study (ISDS) and Center for Study and Applied Science on Children, Women and Adolescent (CSAGA) in selected high schools in three provinces, suggests a prevalence of sexual harassment in high schools. Some 10 percent of respondents revealed being sexually harassed of which, 81 percent were girls. This included 17 percent who were forced to be kissed, 20 percent being sexually touched and 4.3 percent being sexually abused.
While violence against women has become a public health and human rights issue in Vietnam, the incidence of such violence in formal schooling has not been explored. There is no national data on this particular issue.
The International Day of the Girl Child -- a day campaigned for by Plan International with support from the Canadian government, the European Union and others -- will focus the world's attention on the importance of girls' rights and create a foundation for advocacy to ensure girls get the investment and recognition they deserve.
The story is contributed by Glenn Gibney, Plan Vietnam Country Director
Plan Vietnam works to help marginalised children across Vietnam, especially those from ethnic minority groups in mountainous regions.We implement programs and projects involving some 226,000 households in 142 communes in Central and Northern Vietnam, including 40,000 sponsored children and their families.