The Girl Child

Girl Child banner all languages

Take our quiz!

They go to school, help with housework, work in factories, make friends, care for elder and younger family members and prepare themselves to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Girls play multiple roles in the household, society and the economy. Upholding the rights of the girl child has seen increased support through the nearly global adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as through the UN Millennium Development Goals target of increasing equality between girls’ and boys’ educational attainment.

While today, equal numbers of boys and girls are receiving primary education in most of the world, few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education. According to the 2014 MDG Report in 2012, 781 million adults and 126 million youth worldwide lacked basic reading and writing skills, with women accounting for more than 60 per cent of both populations. Even when girls are encouraged to continue their education, they face major challenges that make it difficult for them to attend regularly, sometimes receiving an unequal share of the household tasks due to customary practices in many regions of the world.

Though life for the girl child is steadily improving, many are still subjected to horrific practices, such as female genital mutilation, son preference – often resulting in female infanticide – as well as child marriage, sexual exploitation and abuse. Girls are also more likely to experience discrimination in food allocation and healthcare, and are often outpaced and outranked by boys in all spheres of life. The Girl Child was also one of the 12 critical areas of concern raised in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, concluding in nine strategic objectives framed as a means of holding governments accountable for girl’s rights.

Freedom from all forms of discrimination against the girl child remains only partly fulfilled, and governments and societies must galvanize efforts if true freedom is to be won. Policies and programmes initiated must be duty-bound to take into consideration the differing, yet critical, needs of the girl child in terms of physical protection from sexual and physical exploitation, discrimination in all forms including in the field of education, and increased awareness of the struggles being faced by girls today.

Back to top

Fast facts

View full infographic

Infographic courtesy of UNICEF, Every Woman Every Child and UN Global Education First Initiative.

Back to top

In the words of...

Nnenna Agba - For Nigerian girls, education is the key that opens doors to progress

In the words of Op-Ed Nnenna Agba

Raised in Nigeria, Nnenna Agba gained popularity when she went on the widely watched television show America’s Next Top Model. With hard-won scholarships, she graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry; she also holds a Master’s of Science degree in Urban Affairs. Nnenna is supporting the education of her four sisters in Nigeria, and is the face of Kechie’s Project, a NGO that provides scholarships to girls from Nigerian schools.

Read her article »

Back to top

Editor's picks

Op-ed: For a better world for all

Nigerian girls in Abaji
Photo: UN Women/Mariam Kamara

Where: New York, USA
Organization: UNFPA, UN Women

At 100 days since the abduction of 276 girls in Nigeria and during the first-ever Girl Summit, the Executive Directors of UN Women and UNFPA reiterate that we must keep demanding action to bring back our girls.

Read more »

China’s ‘left-behind girls’ learn self-protection

In China girls learn how to say no
Photo: UN Women/Xinyu Zhang

Where: China
Organization: UN Women

Safe spaces for girls left by migrating parents have been set up and trainings are on-going for children, teachers, community leaders and public authorities to prevent sexual violence, supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

Read more »

Amid an uncertain future, Syrian children attend a newly opened school in Iraq's Baherka refugee camp

Photo: UNICEF/Chris Niles for the Girl Child
Photo: ©UNICEF Iraq/2013/Niles

Where: Syria, Iraq
Organization: UNICEF

In a new refugee camp in Kurdistan Region of Iraq, a young woman who has had to defer her university education because of the Syrian conflict says, “I tell girls all over the world to study. Education is your ammunition. You can fight your own battles with education.”

Read more »

“I will keep very strong”: An Ethiopian girl fights to delay marriage

Photo: Abraham Gelaw for The Girl Child
Photo: Abraham Gelaw

Where: AFAMBO, Ethiopia
Organization: UNFPA

From birth, Kadiga Mohammed was set to marry her first and eldest cousin, a traditional practice known as ‘absuma’ in her community in the Afar Region of Ethiopia. When she turned 16, her parents began to prepare for the wedding. But Kadiga was filled with dread – she did not want to marry the man they had selected for her.

Read more »

In Rio de Janeiro's favelas, a new online tool tackles violence against women and girls

Nubia Felix (right) is one of the project’s community trainers in the favela of Complexo do Alemão.
Photo: UN Women/Gisele Netto

Where: Brazil
Organization: UN Women

Using cell phones and Internet cafés in 10 favelas of Rio de Janeiro, women and girls are accessing information about the services of a network for tackling violence – whether psychological, economic, physical or sexual – and training their peers.

Read more »

Battling commercial sexual exploitation of children in Madagascar

Where: Madagascar
Organization: ILO

Bernadette was 13 when she first started “frequenting” men. At 14, she became pregnant. After she had her baby she went back to work to provide for her family, until at 16, she was withdrawn from sexual exploitation, thanks to TACKLE, a joint project of the EU and the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour

Read more »

Malala Yousafzai addresses UN Youth Assembly

Where: New York, USA
Organization: UN

Education activist Malala Yousafzai marks her 16th birthday, on Friday, 12 July 2013 at the United Nations by giving her first high-level public appearance and statement on the importance of education. Malala became a public figure when she was shot by the Taliban while travelling to school last year in Pakistan -- targeted because of her committed campaigning for the right of all girls to an education. Flown to the United Kingdom to recover, she is now back at school and continues to advocate for every child’s right to education.

Watch video »

See related UNICEF article »