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Davinder Kumar – WNN Improve It
(WNN/PI) San Salvador, EL SALVADOR, AMERICAS: In Marcela’s community, back home on the outskirts of San Salvador, girls dread going to school once they become adolescents. They are routinely harassed by boys in their classes and many are coerced into abusive sexual relations. The consequences are particularly devastating for those girls who become pregnant and are forced to end their education because of shame and fear of ridicule.
Marcela is just short of a miracle.
Living in a community that was until recently labeled the most violent in El Salvador, Marcela is still single at the age of 18, pursuing higher education and is championing girls’ rights in her community.
“I was almost destined for a similar fate had I not become aware of my rights a few years ago,” says Marcela recalling her first contact with child rights organization Plan International during a project that focused on sensitizing young people in her community against violence.
“Years of awareness-raising has made a difference, but there are still too many girls in my community who face violence in schools and drop out of education,” she says.
The problem of girls facing violence in schools is not restricted to Marcela’s community alone.
The statistics show that globally between 500 million and 1.5 billion children experience violence every year, many within schools. An estimated 150 million girls and 73 million boys have experienced sexual violence worldwide. Girls face double discrimination because of their age and their gender.
In the global context, girls and women overwhelmingly face additional barriers to realizing their rights because they are valued less, have less power than boys and men, and therefore end up being more vulnerable and at greater risk of facing violence due to their lower social standing.
At schools, it is not just male students girls can face violence from. Incidents of sexual violence by male teachers and staff against female students are common in many parts of the world. This involves a range of aggressive behaviors and misuse of authority, including rape, verbal sexual harassment, and bribing students with money or the promise of better grades.
In Mozambique, a Canadian government study found that 70 per cent of girl respondents reported knowing that some teachers used sexual intercourse as a condition for their promotion between grades. In Niger the same study shows that more than 8 out of 10 teachers confirm the existence of sexual acts between students and teachers at their school.
Gender-based violence in and around schools is one of the major barriers for girls in completing their education. It threatens to slow the progress in achieving universal access to primary education and gender equality – part of the Millennium Development Goals.
An estimated 66 million girls are still out of primary and secondary school worldwide.
There is a strong link between girls’ education and their fundamental rights and freedoms. Girls who complete primary and secondary education are more likely to earn a greater income during their lifetimes, have fewer unwanted pregnancies and marry later. They are also more likely to break the cycle of generational poverty within their families and the communities around them.
It is imperative to keep girls in education and make schools and their surrounding environments safe for girls, say experts.
As part of a new report released during the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women global advocates at Plan International are calling on governments to create a concrete action plan to end all gender-based violence. A report released in December 2012, “A girl’s right to learn without fear: Working to end gender-based violence at school,” recommends that thorough coordination is needed with those on the ‘front-lines’ in the work to stop violence against teen girls along with enforcement agencies, civil society, parents and school administrators.
Solutions involving specific global communities where Plan International is working are now beginning to focus on boys and men to create an environment where human rights for girls and women are promoted and valued.
“It is only through awareness and education that we have succeeded in scaling down the level of violence in my community,” says Marcela. “Men can very much become part of the solution through change in behavior and attitudes.”
As school-related gender-based violence is widespread in scale and in the number of children it affects, particularly girls, advocates worldwide are calling for concerted action.
“Girls were seen both as victims of and to blame for the violence they experienced,” says advocates with ActionAid in a detailed 2011 analysis “Stop Violence Against Girls in School: A cross-country analysis of baseline research from Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique.”
While girls are most often the receivers of sexual violence, boys are most often the receivers of physical violence with corporeal punishments, outlines the 2011 ActionAid report.
States, as duty bearers, have the ultimate responsibility to fulfill their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that holds that every child has the right to feel safe at school, at home, and in the community.
Weak institutional capacity, limited enforcement of laws, and poor reporting and accountability mechanisms are failing to protect children, particularly girls, so that they can complete the highest degree possible in quality education.
Gender-based violence in-and-around schools continues to be an ongoing global problem, correct policy and action by all governments is needed, say advocates.
Girls like Marcela should not have to be ‘odd miracles’ in their communities for simply being able to continue their education, which should not be a rare privilege nor a stroke of luck. It is their basic human right!, reminds those advocates working on the issues from the ground up-close.
Award winning human rights journalist Davinder Kumar currently works as a freelance journalist for Al Jazeera News English, a Huffington Post blogger, as well as Global Press Officer for child rights organization Plan International. As an award winning reporter Kumar is also a UK Parliament scholarship program recipient as a Chevening Human Rights Scholar.
2013 WNN – Women News Network
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