The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has called for urgent action to stop female genital mutilation, child marriage and other harmful practices carried out against millions of women and girls around the world each year.
UNFPA made that call as it presented its State of the World Population report from UN headquarters in Geneva Monday. The report was embargoed until Tuesday.
UNFPA Director Mónica Ferro told journalists the report cites at lease 19 practice against girls and women girls that have been universally denounced as human rights violations – from breast ironing to virginity testing.
Ferro said the study was also groundbreaking in that it treats these practices as human rights violations. The study indicates that every day, hundreds of thousands of girls around the world are subjected to practices that harm them physically or psychologically – with the full knowledge and consent of their families and communities.
Ferro said the three widespread practices that cause harm are genital mutilation, child marriage and preference for male children.
Genital mutilation is the removal or partial removal of all external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Ferro said this year, 4.1 million girls around the world are at risk for genital mutilation.
The report also estimates that some 33,000 girls under the age of 18 are forced into marriage, often to men much older than them. And report says, because of gender-bias towards males, extreme neglect of female children has led 140 million “missing” females world-wide.
While Ferro reports the “tide is turning,” with more laws being pass to prevent these abuses and traditional practitioners are changing their ways, she says the COVID-19 pandemic could reverse some of that progress.
Ferro said pandemic-related lockdowns have separated woman from medical and domestic-issue-related caregivers, and cases of violence against women could surge. She said “We cannot slow down the pace.” of addressing these issues.