Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service ·
4 March 1998
Commission on the Status of Women
5th Meeting (AM)
NEEDS OF GIRL CHILD FOCUS ON PANEL DISCUSSIONS
AT COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN
The Commission on the Status of Women this morning heard the plea of a
13-year-old girl for greater access to education, during a panel discussion
on the theme of the girl child.
Taking the floor following the presentation by the panellists, Haja
Kebbeh, from the Gambia, lamented the lack of education of so many
children. Citing the example of the female Vice-President of her country,
she said her appointment was the result of her education. All girls wanted
the same opportunity. She appealed to adults to assist young girls. Youth
and adults should join hands for the development of the world.
The panel discussion was the second being held during the current session
on four of the critical areas of concern included in the Platform for
Action of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. The
three other themes of the panel discussions are women and armed conflict,
violence against women, and women and human rights. The outcome of the
discussions will form part of recommendations to be adopted by the
One of the four panellists, Sadig Rasheed, Director of the Programme
Division of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said States were
equipped, through international human rights instruments, with the
framework for making human-centred decisions in the setting of priorities
and allocating resources to protect girls. At the same time, it was
important for girls to be listened to, and be involved in, issues affecting
them. The United Nations had tremendous opportunities now to place women
and girls at the centre of the development process.
The need to focus on the girl child in rural areas was stressed by Paloma
Bonfil Sanchez, Executive Secretary of the Interdisciplinary Group on
Women, Work and Poverty (GIMTRAP), Mexico. It was important to highlight
the poverty in those areas of the world and to address the eradication of
poverty, especially of isolated communities. The issue of multiculturalism
also had to be taken into account. One could not empower the girl child
without taking account of the reality of the diversity of cultural
circumstances in which women and girls lived.
Another panellist, Margaret Vogt, Senior Associate, International Peace
Academy, said girls, as well as boys, were forced to participate in wars.
Because of the traumatic experience of girls in such situations, including
prostitution and rape, homelessness and rejection, they needed special
attention and care to ensure their reintegration into society. While some
initiatives had been taken to deal with the problems of boy soldiers, girl
soldiers also needed specialized programmes.
Lina Bellosillo-Laigo, Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and
Development of the Philippines, outlined various measures to improve the
condition of the girl child in her country, including crisis centres and
hot-lines to respond to victims of abuse; sensitizing communities to
problems related to child abuse; and the setting up of family courts.
Following the presentation by the panellists, many participants spoke of
national efforts to improve the conditions of the girl child, stressing
efforts to open up access to education and health facilities, and on
legislation to combat abuses. Some representatives drew attention to the
problems of girls and women in the rural areas and urged action to improve
their situation. A non-governmental organization representative drew
attention to the phenomenon of child domestic workers and urged the
Commission to take up the issue. Another said that for too long governments
had acted without regard to the concerns of girls.
The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. today for a panel discussion on
the theme of women and armed conflict.
Commission Work Programme
The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to hold a panel
discussion on the girl child, one of the four critical areas of concern of
the Beijing Platform for Action adopted by the 1995 Fourth World Conference
on Women, which the Commission is focusing on at the current session. The
other three areas are human rights of women (which was discussed
yesterday), women and armed conflict, and violence against women.
LINA BELLOSILLO-LAIGO, Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and
Development of the Philippines, outlined the various measures put in place
to improve the condition of the girl child in her country. Crisis centres
and hot-lines had been established to respond to problems of the victims of
abuse. Communities were being taught to identify problems related to child
abuse. Protection measures were being increased. Bilateral agreements had
been signed by the Government with some countries for technical assistance
for training of the police, for instance, in handling cases involving young
people. Victims crisis centres and family courts had also been
established. A celebration of a girl-child week was planned, and a national
plan of action on the girl child was being prepared.
SADIG RASHEED, Director of the Programme Division of the United Nations
Children's Fund (UNICEF), said there could no longer be silence over the
"apartheid of gender", which knew no age limit. Progress in attaining the
goals of the World Summit for Children had been slow. Sixty per cent of 140
million children of primary-school age not in school were girls. Two-thirds
of the 100 million school drop-outs were girls. Early marriage and
pregnancies took the lives of nearly 146,000 teenage girls each year.
Another 2 million girls were subjected to female genital mutilation every
In most countries, national plans of action had been prepared and were
being implemented to follow up on global commitments, but only a few of
those plans focused on children, he said. With human rights instruments,
States were equipped with an essential framework for making human-centred
decisions in the setting of priorities and allocation of resources to
protect girls through principles of non-discrimination and universality.
They could create opportunities for girls and women to obtain information
and participate in decision making in their communities and beyond. The
UNICEF country programmes were moving in the direction of countering
discriminatory attitudes and practices such as female genital mutilation
and early marriage, and to prohibit sexual abuse, violence against girls
and women, and trafficking.
He cited examples of community action, such as the Malicounda village
project in Senegal, where there had been dialogue involving women with
their husbands, the imam and others on female genital mutilation resulting
in the collective resolve of the village to stop the practice. He noted
that over the years, the Inter-African Committee on Harmful Traditional
Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children had been working
across national boundaries and had built national capacities. Through its
national committees, it had emerged as a powerful resource network for
advocacy and action in ending female genital mutilation in Africa.
He said the NGO Working Group on Girls of the NGO Committee for UNICEF
had expanded to become an international network of more than 300
organizations in 85 countries, and through its outreach programme the Group
had prepared a report on implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action
with respect to girls and the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
in furthering that. Girls should be listened to, and involved in, issues
affecting them, he stressed, adding that girls participating in the session
should be involved in the drawing up of recommendations which might emanate
PALOMA BONFIL SANCHEZ, Executive Secretary of the Inter-disciplinary
Group on Women, Work and Poverty (GIMTRAP), Mexico, said her focus was on
the girl child in rural areas because of the need to highlight the process
of pauperization in those areas of the world. The issue of poverty was of
paramount importance. To change the situation of the girl child, the
process of her impoverishment and that of the teenager had to be addressed.
The focus must be on eradicating the poverty, especially of isolated
communities. Another important factor that had to be analysed was
multiculturalism. One could not empower the girl child without taking
account of the reality of the diversity of cultural circumstances in which
women and girls lived.
Governments' plans and programmes would fail if they did not take account
of the problem of inferiority of the girl child, she said. Inequality
inherent in the family must also be highlighted, since the family was the
first context in which violence and unfair treatment in the life of a girl
child might be encountered. The impact of the family as a system in such
instances should be analysed. While strong links between the family and
the community were important, there was need to unleash a girl's
individuality as a means of empowering girl children and teenagers. Such
an approach would not be easy because of the intimate nature of the family.
As part of the process of improving the situation of the poor rural girl
child in Latin America, the value of girls' contribution to domestic work
had to be recognized as important. Indicators had to be developed to
measure their contribution.
On the issue of multiculturalism, she said many ethnic groups were
endangered -- "if not by genocide, by ethnocide". The problems of those
groups should be highlighted, and the more vulnerable within those groups
should be empowered. Indigenous and rural girls should be able to pursue
education, and in their transition to adolescence they should be empowered
to have control over their bodies and their reproductive rights. Bringing
such thinking and action into a rural area required unique approaches that
would minimize the negative impacts on the traditional structures in which
The girl child had little or no control over her body and the
reproductive aspects of her life, she said. Girls and adolescents should
be empowered to take decisions that affected their fate. Even though they
might be sensitized through workshops, there were no follow-up mechanisms
to deal with their situation. Such mechanisms should be put in place.
MARGARET VOGT, Senior Associate, International Peace Academy, focusing on
the impact of war on the girl child, said since the proliferation of
internal conflicts since the end of the cold war had an impact on civil
society, particularly on the girl child. While international conventions
existed to govern war between States and even treatment of prisoners of
war, that was not the case for internal conflicts. A phenomenon of
internal conflicts was the targeting of the civilian population, including
the girl child. The militia in the conflicts abducted girls and boys and
forced them to participate in warfare -- changing their lives and
destroying the family system. "The lucky girls" in such societies were
left alone to take care of their families in the absence of parents. "The
unlucky ones" found themselves behind the military lines as cooks and as
In situations of internal conflict, many girls were forced into
prostitution, and even raped. The trauma that the girls experienced needed
special care and attention. Many of them had no place to go after the
conflict was over. They were rejected by their families, and many were
even refused marriages because of their experiences. That situation
reinforced the need for specialized programmes to ensure the reintegration
of those girls into society. Some initiatives had been taken to deal with
the problems of boy soldiers. Girl soldiers also needed specialized
An important preventive measure would be the drafting and adoption of
conventions governing internal conflicts and protecting civil society, she
said. That would ensure that militia and non-formal armies did not violate
the rights of civil society or "they would be brought to book". At the
moment, there was a sense of impunity since there were no such laws
governing the action of militias. It was time for the United Nations to
move to the community level to seek the imposition of penalties in such
circumstances and to popularize existing human rights laws.
The operations of international organizations, including the United
Nations, should be nuanced to recognize the peculiar needs of the girl
child, she continued. Peacekeeping operations should formulate their
operating procedures to take account of the problems of the girl child.
The personal conduct of peacekeepers and the international personnel on the
ground in conflict and post-conflict situations, and the perception of them
by the young people, also needed to be highlighted. They were seen as a
ticket and a way out of poverty for children in those situations.
International personnel must be educated to understand that the
exploitation of the girl child must not be condoned. Their codes of
conduct must be enforced to ensure that they did not further undermine the
problems of the girl child. Adequate mechanisms must be put in place to
police the codes of conduct. Specialized training on how to handle the
sensitive situation of the girl child was also essential for personnel who
would be called on to deal with their problems.
Comments and Observations
Following the presentation by the panellists, a representative
highlighted the poverty of girls and boys in southern Italy and the action
taken by the Italian Government to address the problems of children and
adolescents, including combating sexual exploitation and trafficking in
children. The problems of girls in distress, including the disadvantaged
position of Arab girls in Israel, was raised by another delegate. A
representative focused on the promotion of the civil and political rights
of women and girls as a means of empowering the girl child and women in
Uganda. She asked what the advantage was of putting the issues of the
girls and women into the system of governance and the impact of different
systems of governance on the situation of girls and women.
Other issues raised by another representative included the need for the
girl child to have equal access to education; to address literacy and other
problems experienced by the girl child both inside and outside the
classroom; and the elimination of discrimination of girls in health services.
He asked for examples of instances in which the girl child had been involved
in programmes affecting them and what lessons could be learned from such
Many participants spoke of national efforts to improve the conditions of
the girl child, stressing efforts to open up access to education, health
facilities and legislation to combat abuses. An NGO representative said
prejudice had prevented girls from expressing themselves for years and
welcomed the opportunity to do so now. For too long, governments had acted
without regard to the concerns of girls. Some representatives also drew
attention to the problems of girls and women in the rural areas and urged
action to improve their situation.
Some participants called for expansion of data on the girl child to
ensure appreciation of their needs and public education about their rights.
An NGO representative stressed the importance of education and
socialization of education within the family. She said her country was
preoccupied with the circumstances of vulnerable girls, as well as boys.
Equal value should be given to their roles. A representative spoke about
an affirmative action programme introduced in her country to ensure that 40
per cent of women were involved in decision-making in government.
An NGO representative drew attention to the phenomenon of child domestic
workers who were mostly girls in the Philippines, and urged the Commission
to take up the issue.
For the first time at meetings of the Commission, a 13 year-old school
girl from the Gambia spoke on behalf of the girl child. HAJA KEBBEH said
many children suffered from lack of education, and appealed for educational
assistance for them. The Vice-President of her country, a woman, was
appointed to the post because of her education. All girls wanted to have
the same opportunity. Children needed adults just as adults needed them.
They should join hands together for the development of the world.
Response by Panellists
Mr. RASHEED, Director of UNICEF Programme Division, emphasized the
importance of adopting a holistic approach to the development of the girl
child. The girl child should be involved in decisions affecting their well
being and future. The UNICEF involved a lot of partners in its
programmes, and at the country level it had been listening to children and
involving them in project design. He noted that problems of the girl child
could not be fully addressed without account being taken of problems faced
Ms. BONFIL SANCHEZ, Executive Secretary of GIMTRAP, Mexico, said
mechanisms for positive action were now required to enforce the many human
rights instruments. It was not enough for those instruments to declare the
equality of the rights of women and men. Governments must incorporate
those instruments in domestic laws and enforce them. She also drew
attention to the problems of rural women and girls and urged action to
In further comments, one representative said the "cry of the girl child"
should be heard. Mechanisms were required to protect the rights of the
child and to monitor their violations. Another representative asked for
comments on the impact of globalization on rural economies in developing
countries. Awareness programmes were required to inform the public about
harmful effects of some customary laws, said another.
Governments and NGOs should be encouraged to ensure that girls from
infancy received the same attention as boys, a representative said, adding
that the youth should be involved in the evaluation of programmes and
projects affecting them. Governments should also take measures to deal
with child labour and child prostitution within and outside their borders.
Closing Statements by Panellists
Mr. RASHEED, Director of the Programme Division of UNICEF, said the
"rights approach" he had referred to was a means of securing the fulfilment
of the rights of children by families. Resources had to be committed and
priority given to attaining those rights for children. He called for the
establishment of more NGO networks to combat specific problems such as
sexual exploitation. The United Nations system had tremendous opportunities
now to place women and children at the centre of development.
Ms. BONFIL SANCHEZ, Executive Secretary of GIMTRAP, Mexico, said
delegations must think globally and act globally. Initiatives taken by
women and teenage girls to draw attention to their problems should be
encouraged, and the media involved in campaigns to educate the public about
the rights of children.
Ms. BELLOSILLO-LAIGO, Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and
Development of the Philippines, called for comprehensive programmes
focusing on problems of women and children. She also called for the
involvement of the girl child in advocacy programmes.
Ms. VOGT, of the International Peace Academy, stressed the need for
effective mechanism and effective partnership between the United Nations
and NGOs to promote observance of international human rights instruments.
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