Adolescence is an age of transformation when children under-go rapid physical, cognitive, emotional, sexual and psychological changes. It is also an age of opportunity, when the brain undergoes a burst of development and the potential for learning is enormous.
Among the most disturbing ways to diminish a girl is through violence. Violence against girls is pervasive - cutting across geography, age, class and ethnicity.
According to a recent statistical analysis of violence against children, UNICEF found that globally, adolescent girls encounter physical, sexual, emotional and psychological aggression in striking proportions. They experience violence at the hands of peers, teachers, family members and strangers; and in their homes, schools, communities and online.
In recognition of the importance of preventing and eliminating the various forms of violence adolescent girl’s experience and the importance of investing in and empowering them, the theme of International Day of the Girl Child for 2014 is Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence.
When adolescent girl experiences violence, her choices and opportunities are limited and the effects of that could last throughout her lifetime, and even extend to future generations. The stress of violence and abuse could lead to reduced school performance, lower economic productivity in adulthood and school drop-outs.
In this regard, the statistical evidence is stark. Although Ghana has achieved parity between boys and girls in primary school, the gap begins to show in secondary school, and by the tertiary level, there are approximately twice as many boys as girls.
There are several reasons for this. However, the several forms of violence perpetuated against girls is one of the reasons for losing them in the critical transition time between childhood and adulthood.
Violence against adolescent girls at school be it through bullying or unwanted sexual advances continue to be a serious barrier to fulfilling their right to education, and is one of the key factors for the low quality of school education for girls.
Other forms of violence such as early and child marriage also deprive girls of childhood, and often of education, and put them at risk of different forms of inter-personal violence. Girls who marry as children are less likely to attend school and complete their secondary education, which has negative health and economic consequences for the wider community.
To end the cycle of violence against adolescent girls, they must be empowered with the knowledge, skills and resources and options they need to reach their potential. Education is therefore at the heart of the solution.
Educating an adolescent girl increases her earning potentials, and her chances of participating in the labour force, contributing to poverty reduction.
Girls with secondary education are better able to care for themselves and for their children. Educating adolescent girls improves maternal and child health and mortality, and saves lives.
Providing adolescent girls with life skills education could help them to develop their critical thinking, build their self-esteem, communicate effectively, and solve problems in a cooperative way.
It also gives them the skills required to cope with violence if and when it does occur.
Those who bear the duty of protecting girls and enabling their future potentials are being called upon to fulfill every girl’s aspirations-these include governments, parents, communities, leaders, the private sector and the global community.
Men and boys also have an integral role to play in creating a world free from violence.
Other actions include changing the attitudes and social norms that encourage violence and discrimination through school and community programmes, mass media and social mobilisation campaigns, supportive services, and laws and policies that make forms of violence a punishable offence must be promoted.
Implementing and enforcing laws and policies that protect adolescent girls from violence, exploitation and abuse is also essential to providing healthy, safe and secure environments in which they could thrive. This must be combined with the development of gender-sensitive codes of conduct for schools, institutions, workplaces, the private sector and sports programmes.
Finally, providing parents and care-givers with child-rearing strategies and techniques, as well as economic support, to help mitigate a range of factors that place their girls at risk of violence is a key building block. This area of action seeks to prevent violence from the onset, by promoting positive parent-child interactions.
By Lydia Asamoah/ Susan Namongo Ngongi