Sunday, 11th October 2015 marked the International Day of the Girl Child. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this day is the fact that it’s still needed. When the United Nations General Assembly first designated the Day in December, 2011, the plan was to recognise the rights of girls around the world, and the unique challenges that they face.
Each year, the observance Day is given a theme. In previous years, the need to end child marriage and secure proper education were prevalent. The theme for 2015 is the Power of the Adolescent Girl. But while the UN comments on this year’s Day are commendable – acknowledging that girls have the right to a safe, educated and healthy life both during adolescence and as they mature.
Unfortunately, the rights that girls acquire in adolescence and beyond are only relevant if another, far more fundamental right has been protected previously – namely, the right to life itself. As the basic human right, there is no other right that is more important. Indeed, no other right can be availed of the right to life is denied but this simple fact is lost on many people, even an organisation as powerful as the UN.
Back in March 2010, the Economist magazine ran a cover story that talked about “the war on baby girls”. It spoke about a horrifying new reality – how, according to official estimates, over 100 million girls were missing from the world due to gendercide, abortion and infanticide. Later surveys estimated that the figure had risen even further. The trickle-down effect of such blunt gender imbalancing has resulted in the phenomenon of “bare branches”, where millions of young men are literally left with no chance whatsoever of marriage. This leads to sex trafficking, and a vicious cycle of human rights abuses.
It would seem then that the proper place to start when addressing something as important as the rights of girls throughout the world would be to look at those situations where girls are most targeted. If we were to do that, abortion would have to be high on the list. Human rights campaigners like Reggie Littlejohn of Womens’ Rights Without Frontiers have specifically targeted China’s One Child Policy not only because of the horrific abuse it inflicts on pregnant women in China, but also because baby girls are most at risk of abortion because of its restrictions. In countries like China, where baby boys are considered far more valuable than girls, many families will opt to abort baby girls – particularly if they live in a restrictive regime that doesn’t allow or encourage them to have more than one child.
There are many who would like to think that this phenomenon is only prevalent in underdeveloped countries, or cultures subject to restrictive regimes like the One Child Policy. Unfortunately, this is not the case and when the truth comes to the fore, the proper action isn’t always taken.
When an undercover investigation revealed sex selective abortions were taking place in the UK, one would have hoped that a radical overhaul of the UK abortion laws (which don’t allow abortion on grounds of gender) would have taken place. Instead, when a vote was finally held in the British Houses of Parliament to determine that the practice was illegal under the Abortion Act 1967, it was defeated. Various reasons were offered – there was no need because the Act clearly outlaws sex-selective abortions; it would send a bad message to some members of British society, making them feel that their cultures were exclusionary; and perhaps the most telling of all – if the vote was successful, there was the danger that the status of “personhood” might be conferred on the unborn child.
Perhaps that’s the real reason why we still have so far to go as a global society before we can truly say that girls in every country around the world have all the rights and opportunities that they deserve. Whether we like it or not, abortion plays a big part in discriminating against girls. What we need most of all now are policy makers who have the courage, vision and determination to put the right to life of the world’s girls above the so-called “right to abortion”. When that happens, we might start to make some real progress.