NEW ROCHELLE, NY (Oct. 11, 2012) The first-ever International Day of the Girl Child was recognized on Oct. 11, 2012. Established to promote equal treatment and opportunities for girls, the International Day is an acknowledgment by the world community that there is a disparity in the way the rights of girls and boys are protected and promoted.
The Day of the Girl was established by a vote of the United Nations General Assembly in 2011 to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. One of the issues that drew focus was that of child marriage. For the first time, UN member states recognized that child marriage is a human rights violation and is a serious health risk for young girls whose bodies are not fully developed for motherhood.
“This puts them and their babies at risk,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Early marriage also prevents young girls from continuing their education and contributes to many of them remaining in poverty throughout their lives,” he adds, noting that the achievement of their full potential is hindered when girls are forced to assume all of the domestic duties and raise children while they are still children themselves.
A special exhibit on child marriage has been installed at UN Headquarters in New York to help raise awareness and encourage advocacy and action both on the part of member states and those who visit the UN daily.
In spite of many advances in changing the status and perception of women and girls, much more needs to be done to address the serious issues the girl child faces, according to Fr. Hyde. Among these are: limited educational opportunities, illiteracy and school dropout, physical and sexual violence, lack of role models, forced labor and limited work opportunities, trafficking, negative media images and most importantly, inequality.
"Girls are asking to be seen as and treated as equals," says Fr. Hyde. "They want to participate more fully in decision making, especially in decisions that affect their lives in their families and communities."
Salesian Missions cares about the growth and development of women in the communities they serve. Women are the backbone of the family structure and by providing women necessary education, training skills and support, families are made stronger. Social outreach programs, child care support, and job training allow for women to work at every level of production and management jobs supporting and keeping their families intact.
To mark the first-ever International Day of the Girl Child, Salesian Missions is proud to highlight some of its programs around the globe that empower girls through education:
CAMBODIA: In Cambodia, education for girls opens doors to opportunities. With basic education, girls are better equipped to face the daily dangers of human trafficking, child prostitution and substance abuse. Today, more than 2,000 girls who live in poverty have access to basic education through the Don Bosco Children’s Fund. In addition, with vocational and technical education, they see possibilities for jobs and independence. Hundreds of students at four specialized schools for girls/young women will open new doors with skills in printing, electronics, secretarial skills and sewing.
COLOMBIA: The “Right to Dream” program for many poverty-stricken children in Medellin, Colombia. One such child is Alejandra – who now has access to social support and educational program previously unimaginable to her and her siblings as they worked on the streets to help their family survive. One hundred students ages 7-18 receive vocational training and hot meals.
GUATEMALA: Extreme poverty is often associated with rural life in Guatemala. Rural Q’echi (Mayans) are among the rural populations looking to improve their lives. Through Salesian Missions programs, they are focusing on increasing the capacity of their communities. With the assistance of the Q’echi promoters, community groups are educated in self management for projects benefiting family and community. Salesians also work through the Foundation for Advancement of Indigenous Women in Guatemala (Talita Kumi) to raise the status of women and empower them to become house hold and community decision-makers.
KENYA: At the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, girls and women receive training opportunities and learn about the important role they play in society and the community. The microfinance program funded by UNHCR and Caritas Italiana offers graduates, women and other refugees an opportunity to establish small business ventures using skills learned.
MEXICO: In Mexico City, girls and mothers face severe dangers living on the streets. Through the “Yolia” program, girls and women become regulars at the day center. There, they have meals, receive tutoring, obtain therapy, and learn job skills such as jewelry making and hair styling. Some girls may also choose to live in the residential area, where they receive additional education and services, while building a sense of dignity and self worth.
PERU: Since 1982, Salesian Missions has offered training for girls at a vocational school in Yanama, Peru. Currently, more than 300 students enrolled in these schools, which are now located in parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as Peru. Girls are trained in using alpaca and sheep wool to make sweaters, rugs, gloves and other articles, which are marketed locally and abroad. On graduating, they receive a weaving machine as the first step in the new career.
SRI LANKA: Mary Help of Christians in Sri Lanka is home to 173 girls who were soldiers during the country's civil war. They are the innocent victims of a 25-year civil war that ended in 2009 and generated more than 200,000 young refugees. Today, these girls are safe but their recovery process will be a long road. Few people realize that 40% of the children kidnapped by guerrilla fighters and forced to fight in the war were girls. The youngest were enslaved as maids to cook and clean for the soldiers. As they got older, the girls were forced to act as spies and informers. By the time they reached puberty, many of the girls were trapped into abusive and humiliating marriages with guerrilla leaders.