Girls' rights are human rights: Positioning girls at the heart of the international agenda

A message from the CEO of Plan International


Girls’ Rights are Human Rights, right? Everyone knows that. So why do we need to make a case for girls? What makes them special?

Although there are a number of international laws that safeguard the rights of all human beings, very few specifically mention girls. Yet however you cut and slice the data, whichever sources of information you choose, girls remain the largest excluded group on the planet. Girls take a hit on both fronts: their gender and their age, and play second fiddle to boys in education, work, health and family life. Add poverty, ethnicity and/or disability into the mix, and this problem is magnified. Still not convinced? Just stop a second, and take in these statistics. 32 million primary-school aged girls do not attend school worldwide. That’s more than the entire population of Australia and New Zealand combined. 41,000 girls are forced into marriage every day. That’s like filling up Chelsea Football club’s stadium with child brides every day – nearly 15 million girls a year.

Girls will face more challenges than boys throughout their youth, and by not specifically recognising girls within international law, they effectively become invisible. Even the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – both hugely important documents in protecting and promoting girls’ rights in law – refer very little to girls specifically.

To better understand this issue, and position girls at the heart of the international agenda, Plan International has launched the Girls’ Rights Platform. This database houses the world’s most comprehensive and searchable human rights database of more than 1,400 international policy documents. We hope the Girls’ Rights Platform will become the online resource for diplomats, NGOs, activists and academics – a one stop shop for information on girls’ rights. It’s also a hub for training to help build knowledge and understanding of these critical issues.

In combination with the launch of the Girls Rights Platform, Plan International has published an in-depth study into the status of girls in international law. The Girls Rights are Human Rights report dives into these 1,300 international policy documents and highlights the holes and gaps that affect girls. It makes for shocking reading.

Take “reservations” for example. Reservations are the get-out-of-jail free cards of international treaties and conventions. They allow states to opt-out of parts of key treaties and conventions before signing up. States get the kudos and acclaim for signing up to such treaties but without having to enact anything they don’t like. Unsurprisingly, most reservations around girls serve to deny them sexual and reproductive health and rights. Refusing equality in marriage and family life is also common. These reservations are often justified by states on the grounds of religious or cultural differences, but whatever the reason, they erode girls’ control over their own lives and their bodies. Even the Sustainable Development Goals attracted a high number of reservations. The headlines say 193 leaders signed up the ambition of the global goals, but not much is said about the many reservations in place regarding abortion and gender, for example.

As a global leader on girls’ rights, Plan International is calling on the international community to push the plight of girls to the front. We need to articulate the rights and needs of girls more than ever, and expose the problem of age- and gender-based discrimination for all to see.

We want states to:

  • Address girls’ double burden of gender- and age-based discrimination and commit to the realisation of girls’ rights.
  • Take measures to bridge the gap between women’s and children’s rights that currently render girls invisible through strengthening legislation and filling gaps in international law.
  • Ensure that norms and frameworks for producing future international policy and agreements better reflect the challenges girls face.
  • Comply with international standards that advance girls’ rights.

Unless we make these changes girls around the globe will continue to slip through the cracks of our international laws and treaties and be denied their rights. The lack of rights and protection of girls in international law cannot continue to be the norm.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of children’s rights organisation Plan International