UN chief says potential of too many of world’s girls is unfulfilled
Irish launch of UN Population Fund report hears of worldwide discrimination against girls
Labour TD Jan O Sullivan, Hannah Ghafoor-Butt, UNFPA director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin and Minister of State Marcella Corcoran Kennedy at launch of “State of the World Population” report for 2016. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has told of how, when practising as a doctor in his home country Nigeria, a mother came to him with infant twins. One boy and one girl.
“The boy weighed twice as much as the girl, because she preferred to breast feed the boy. That was an unconscious choice she made. Within a cultural setting, sometimes people do things which you cannot explain, and to that extent we will always have to think consciously about it to ensure the girl gets the same opportunities as her brother.”
Dr Babatunde Osotimehin was speaking at the Irish publication of the UNFPA’s State of the World Population report for 2016, which focuses on the prospects girls aged 10 have around the world. The Dublin event was hosted by the Irish Family Planning Association.
Dr Osotimehin says the potential of too many of the world’s girls is unfulfilled, with many not completing education, forced into underage marriages, engaged in unpaid or low-paid work, and becoming pregnant before they are 18.
“In some countries when a girl approaches the age of 10, and puberty, she is suddenly not seen as a girl who can do anything she sets her mind to, but as a commodity that can be sold, into slavery or marriage, sometimes for childbearing, or to be trafficked for labour or sexual exploitation.
“Every day about 40,000 girls, many of them as young as 10, are at risk of enforced marriage. I often wonder, a man at 60 or 70, how could they ever take a girl of 10 years old? Sometimes we need to examine ourselves a bit more.”
He says underage marriage takes girls out of school, which undermines prospects.
“With child pregnancy comes health risks. Sometimes they die. It is an unforgiveable injustice and a violation of the girl’s fundamental rights.”
He says that if she is protected from forced marriage and underage pregnancy she has a better chance of realising her potential.
“For us to have development it must be based on rights, the rights of people. If you don’t base it on rights you don’t understand what progress is.”
Also at the event, Minister of State for health promotion Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy said Ireland was committed to promoting equality and women’s empowerment globally.