A girl looks through a metal partition, separating men and women, at a mosque inside the Data Darbar Sufi shrine, after Friday prayers during the month of Ramadan in Lahore

October 11, 2012, marks the United Nation’s first-ever observance of the International Day of the Girl Child. According to the U.N., selected as this year’s theme was “Ending Child Marriage.” Organizers say it was chosen because the practice is seen as a phenomenon that violates millions of girls’ rights, disrupts their education, jeopardizes their health, and denies them their childhood.

In a message to the world, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged countries across the world to “Let girls be girls!”

“Girls face discrimination, violence and abuse every day across the world.  This alarming reality underpins the International Day of the Girl Child, a new global observance to highlight the importance of empowering girls and ensuring their human rights.” – Ban Ki-Moon, October 11, 2012

“Investing in girls is a moral imperative — a matter of basic justice and equality,” Ban said, reminding the world that it is also an obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In addition, he said, it is critical for achieving the Millennium Development Goals of advancing economic growth and building peaceful, cohesive societies.

According to U.N. statistics, across the world, one in every three young women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18.  That’s 70 million young women who might otherwise have been educated or incorporated into the working world. Studies show, if the trends keep up at this rate, in ten years, 150 million girls will have been married before they reach adulthood.

“I urge governments, community and religious leaders, civil society, the private sector, and families — especially men and boys — to promote the rights of girls, including through the relevant conventions, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.  Let us be guided by the theme of today’s observance — ‘my life, my right, end child marriage’ — and let us do our part to let girls be girls, not brides.” -  Ban Ki-Moon, October 11, 2012

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released this video:

In Washington, Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, helping celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, brought attention to the case of 14-year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousufzai, who was was shot in the head by Taliban militants Tuesday while returning home from school.

“I think we should be dedicating our efforts to brave young women, some of whose names we will know and some we will never know, who struggle against tradition and culture and even outright hostility and sometimes violence to pursue their hopes, their God-given potential to have a life of meaning and purpose and make contributions to their families, their communities, their countries, and the world…” – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 10, 2012

At U.N. headquarters in New York, October 11 was observed by a high-level panel discussion featuring Archbishop Desmond Tutu and representatives from the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (U.N. Women). In addition, UNFPA launched a new report on child marriage and a photo exhibition titled “Too Young to Wed,” which will open this evening at U.N. headquarters.

The United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) released this video:

The day was also celebrated across the globe and in social media (the following Storify stream might not display on some mobile devices):

 

 Let Girls Be Girls!   UN Marks First ever Day of the Girl Child

Cecily Hilleary

Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.