Harmful Traditional Practices

A) Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

B) Early and forced child marriages

C) Son preference – girl infanticide and female foeticide

D) Dowry Systems

Every social grouping in the world has specific traditional cultural practices, some of which are beneficial to all members, while others are harmful to a particular group. (UN Fact Sheet) Harmful traditional practices affect girls more than boys.

Some of these include: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early and forced marriages, son preference, and the dowry systems. Many of these practices have serious consequences for the girl child’s physical, emotional, and psychological development.

What we can do to make a difference:

  • Create opportunities for dialogue with men, including traditional and religious leaders, on girls’ rights and discriminatory cultural norms
  • Help increase literacy rates among girls

A) Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

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FGM, or female circumcision, as it is sometimes erroneously referred to, involves surgical removal of parts or all of the most sensitive female genital organs or other injury to the female genital organs. It is an age-old practice perpetuated by many communities around the world simply because it is tradition. FGM forms an important part of the rites of passage ceremony for some communities, marking the coming of age of the female child.  It is believed that by mutilating the female’s genital organs, her sexuality will be controlled, but above all it is to ensure a woman’s chastity and virginity before marriage and marital fidelity thereafter.

FGM imposes a multitude of health complications and untold psychological problems on women (and the female child). The practice of FGM violates, among other international human rights laws, the right of the child to the “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health,” as laid down in Article 24 (paras. 1 and 3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ‘Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children’. Fact Sheet No. 23. 2003)

Some girls and women in developing countries are unaware of their basic rights, and others are raised to believe that their tradition is more important than their basic human rights of freedom from torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, among others. This ensures the acceptance and the perpetuation of harmful traditional practices which affect their well-being and that of their children.

Did you know?

3 Million young girls are subject to FGM in 32 countries each year (UNICEF 2007)

What we can do to make a difference:

  • Share that FGM is against the international law
  • Educate your elders on the dangers of practices such as FGM

B) Early and forced child marriages

Early and forced child marriages occur when at least one partner does not give consent and is coerced into marrying. This includes ‘mail order’ and Internet child brides. The forced marriage of children takes place in many different cultural, political and economic situations, and involves boys as well as girls. However, girls are undoubtedly the most affected and suffer the most severe consequences. They are frequently intimidated, but also abducted, raped and sometimes murdered. A girl or woman who is forced to marry is usually a slave, forced to live and sleep with her husband, and often physically confined indoors.

Forced child marriage is most common in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa, including Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Uganda. When a girl marries early, it usually means the end of her education if she is in school and the end of her autonomy to make important decisions about work, her health and her well-being. Abuse is common in child marriages. Lack of consistent marriage registration makes early and forced marriages difficult to track. It is a question of psychological violence before it is a question of culture.

Children sometimes run away from rural areas because of arranged and early marriages and end up on the street and/or in prostitution.

Western society and the UN view forced marriage as a form of human rights abuse because it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals.

Did you know?

Approximately 14 million adolescent girls give birth each year.  Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women over 20.

What we can do to make a difference:

  • Speak out for your right to remain in school, delay marriage and choose your partner
  • Educate young women about their right to refuse an early marriage and also be part of the option of divorce
  • Enlist religious and community leaders to stop abductions and child marriages as they increase the maternal mortality rate
  • Organize and support awareness-raising campaigns and public education programs about the negative effects of child marriage
  • Demand that there are compulsory birth registrations and birth certificates, which should be the basis for the marriage and its registration
  • Work with the media in raising awareness about the health, psychological and other effects of early marriage on adolescents and their children
  • Participate in the development of centers to help girls vulnerable to abuse or threat of forced and early marriage

C) Son preference – girl infanticide and female foeticide

The crude methods of eliminating girl babies after birth include poisoning, throat splitting, starvation, smothering and drowning which illustrate the insignificance accorded to these young female lives. (Gendercide Watch, Female infanticide 2000)

The issue of girl infanticide, or the murder of children because they are female, is of growing concern in contemporary society worldwide. This violation of a girl’s basic right to life requires urgent attention and action.

The issue of female foeticide, the practice of sex-selective abortions, has taken over infanticide and is practiced in different parts of the world but is most prevalent in Southern Asia. The root causes leading to female foeticide are complex and reflect diverse political, economic, social, cultural and religious practices, none of which justify such a violation of human rights.*

Principal causes for female foeticide and girl infanticide are traditions: social pressure is stronger than law; girls considered as a useless economic burden; misunderstanding of the importance of the committed crime; non respect of women’s rights; exclusion of women from their societies if traditions are not followed; superstition, religious beliefs; ignorance of the laws in force, and last but not least poverty. (* ‘A Girl’s right to live’ 2007)

Did you know?

Between 80 and 100 million girls are ‘missing’ from the world’s population. They are victims of gender based infanticide, malnutrition, and neglect. Girls are undesirable in many regions of the world.

What we can do to make a difference:

  • Work with boys, parents, and other adults to promote gender equality, to respect girls’ rights and autonomy, and to have zero tolerance of violence against girls and women

D) Dowry systems

Dowry is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband. Dowry can be defined as a forced financial and material arrangement to be given by the parents of the bride to the parents of the groom or the bridegroom himself as an essential condition of the marriage.

The evils of the dowry system have left some Indian couples with a marked preference for sons. Worried by soaring marriage costs, the girl child is still unwanted by some parents who opt for illegal prenatal sex-determination tests just to abort the female fetus.

Children are linked to the dowry system, as parents have to save up money and goods that will constitute the dowry, nearly as soon as their child is born. Some families live in poverty and make great sacrifices just to have a good dowry and marry their girls.

Did you know?

° Dowry deaths are the deaths of young women who are murdered or driven to suicide by continuous harassment and torture by husbands and in-laws in an effort to extort an increased dowry.

Tips:

  • Help girls to know their rights and fight unjust discrimination and unjust male preference
  • Mobilize girls and women to come forward and fight against the practice of dowry
  • Mobilize young men to reject the demand for a dowry by their parents
  • Mobilize young women to refuse to marry men who demand a dowry