Press Release

On the International Day of the Girl Child, the IACHR Stresses States’ Obligation to Grant Special, Reinforced Protection to Girls’ Fundamental Rights

October 10, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - On the International Day of the Girl Child, October 11, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stresses States’ role to provide special, reinforced protection to their fundamental rights and reaffirms that girls and adolescents have the same rights to grow and develop without discrimination as their male peers.

The Commission warns that women in the Americas suffer violence at all stages in their lives. Girls and adolescents, in particular, face aggravated violence, evident in aspects including domestic violence, child labor, human trafficking, and the exploitation of labor, as well as in education and technology. The IACHR further observes with particular concern the prevalence of sexual violence, child marriage, and adolescent pregnancies.

“The particular situation of girls is largely invisible, because the problems they face and the vulnerabilities that characterize them are not specifically recognized,” said Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Women. “Their needs often go unnoticed under the categories of ‘women’ or ‘children,’ ignoring the reinforced protection they need both for their status as developing people and for their gender status,” Commissioner Macaulay added.

Concerning the persistence of sexual violence against girls and adolescents, the IACHR has repeatedly observed that such violence is often exercised by individuals close to those girls and adolescents, in places where those girls conduct their daily activities and where they should feel safe, including their homes and schools. The Commission further notes the prevalence of high rates of adolescent pregnancy, that entails risks for the health of mothers and newborns because of the increased risk of complications during pregnancy, childbirth, and puerperium associated with these mothers’ insufficient physiological and emotional maturity. In several countries in the Americas, the access of pregnant adolescents to education is restricted when they are denied entry into their schools and are otherwise exposed to various forms of harassment, marginalization, and rejection.

Similarly, the Commission highlights the prevalence of child marriage, a common practice in the region although it violates the rights of girls. A total of 14 States in Latin America and the Caribbean continue to allow marriage for individuals under 16 through legislative exceptions, while six countries still have different age requirements for marriage for men and women. This harmful practice is based on discriminatory gender stereotypes linked to motherhood and to the role of women as wives and partners, and it has a particularly negative impact on the life plans of girls and adolescents. Child marriage affects their opportunities for personal, educational, and professional development and their ability to make important decisions about their lives, including their financial independence and their reproductive autonomy. In many cases, child marriage is also linked to gender-based, sexual, domestic, and psychological violence, and it reinforces cycles of poverty and precariousness.

The Commission further acknowledges the importance of effectively enforcing girls’ and adolescents’ right to participation, as a way to empower and protect them by enabling them to play leading roles. The IACHR stresses that States have an obligation to ensure that all children in a position to form their own judgment have the right to express their opinion freely in all matters that concern them, and that States must give due weight to those opinions in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

“In the region, girls and adolescents continue to face multiple and diverse forms of violence, some from an extremely early age. Violence against them cannot be normalized or tolerated, and States must act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish, and repair it,” said Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, the IACHR’s President and Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child. “It is essential to eradicate misogynistic and discriminatory patterns that ignore girls’ denunciations, testimonies, and voice. States must therefore also reinforce prevention, education, and empowerment efforts, so that girls and adolescents know, exercise, and claim their rights,” Commissioner Arosemena de Troitiño stressed.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 256/19