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International day of the girl child amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

On October the 11th 2011, the UN declared International Day of the Girl Child to recognise girls’ rights and highlight the challenges that they face. The day draws attention to the fact that in many places around the world girls are disadvantaged based on their gender and age. The COVID-19 pandemic has further and disproportionately disadvantaged these members of society.

Each year the day has a specific theme. This year the theme is ‘my voice, our equal future’. It aims to imagine a better world inspired by adolescent girls who are energised, recognised and invested in. The focusses include, aiding young girls to live free from harmful practices, learn new skills that will contribute towards the future that they choose, and lead as a generation of activist, accelerating social change.

One way in which this can be achieved is through investing in education. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), girls who are educated are less likely to become child brides, child mothers or victims of violence. For many girls, schools offer additional social support and access to other basic needs such as food, sanitary pads and safe accommodation.

Despite efforts from organisations such as UNICEF, ActionAid, and childvoice.org the current pandemic has affected vulnerable girls immensely. For example, school closures in Kenya and across Africa have led to a rise in the illegal practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Before the corona crisis, schools were functioning as strong safety nets where children were educated on the risks of the practice, as well as, reporting to authorities if the practice had occurred (you can read more on this here).

The United Nations population fund recently forecast that an additional 13 million girls globally would be forced into child marriage and two million more would undergo FGM between now and 2030, as COVID-19 disrupts efforts to end both practices. With the closure of many schools and the prospect of reopening remaining uncertain, a vital social lifeline has been jeopardised for this generation of young girls.

For more information on the International Day of the Girl Child and how you can support, visit the following sites hyperlinked here: UNICEF, Actionaid and Childvoice.org.