Islamabad - Irrespective of the differences in social and economic status, religion and race, women continue to suffer, as physical, sexual and psychological violence against them is prevalent worldwide.

This multifaceted violence is a gross violation of their human rights that not only threatens physical, social and economic well-being of women but also foils the global efforts to reduce poverty.

To recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face around the world, October 11 was declared as the International Day of the Girl Child by the United Nations in December 2011.

In recognition of the importance of investing in and empowering girls during adolescence and preventing and eliminating the various forms of violence they experience, this year, the day will be marked with the theme “Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence”. A girl child faces violation of her rights throughout her life. According to International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), in many developing countries, girls are forced to marry shortly after puberty, often to much older men. In some cases, child brides are as young as 7 or 8. Pakistan is no exception to such instances.

One third of the world’s girls are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. Girls living in poor households are almost twice as likely to marry before 18 than girls in higher income households.

According to the UNESCO, 64 per cent out of the 793 million adults worldwide who cannot read are women. In Pakistan, over 5.1 million primary school-aged children are out of school, which ranks it as the country with third highest number of out-of-school children in the world.

What further worsens the situation is that more than half of these children are girls that make up 63 per cent. Girls with higher levels of schooling are less likely to marry as children. Once married at an early age, a girl is more likely to be a victim of domestic violence and suffer health complications associated with early sexual activity and childbearing.

When this is combined with lack of power, information and access to services, married young girls experience much higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity than older women who give birth. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s that makes pregnancy one of the leading causes of death for girls of ages 15-19 worldwide. Moreover, child brides face a higher risk of contracting HIV.

According to ICRW, globally, one in four girls under 17 reports experiencing sexual abuse. In Pakistan, more than 100 cases of rape and gang rape were reported in 2011 and 2012 but the real percentage is said to be 60 to 70 per cent higher, as many cases are not reported or disclosed due to women’s poor access to justice and social implications of disclosure.