The third African Girls Summit - Ending harmful practices is a human rights priority

New York/Niamey, 20 November 2021– During her mission to Niger and Chad, Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, participated in the 3rd African Girls Summit under the theme “Culture, Human Rights and Accountability – Accelerating End to Harmful Practices,” where she met the key stakeholders, institutional actors, and civil society organizations to discuss the issue of harmful practices in Africa. 

This summit aims to convene a platform to share progress, challenges and mobilize concerted action to accelerate the elimination of harmful practices in Africa and contribute to strengthening efforts towards achieving Aspiration 6, priority 6.1.2 of Agenda 2063. 

Girls and Women in the African region continue to face extensive systemic challenges of their human rights that are deeply rooted in the harmful norms and practices that perpetuate social, political, and economic inequalities. These include sexual and gender-based violence, harmful practices, including child marriages, female genital mutilation, sex selection, breast ironing, among other negative harmful practices.

In her opening remarks, SRSG Najat Maalla M’jid highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this alarming tendency and she addressed the urgency to end harmful practices of children in Africa. 

“Despite the many commitments and the various actions carried out over several years, the reality and the figures show that gender-based violence and harmful practices to girls, such as, early or forced marriage, genital mutilation, economic exploitation, servitude, force-feeding, alarmingly persist,” said Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid.

In this event, member states, civil societies, experts, and other key stakeholders concurred that ending harmful practices is a human rights priority and requires a collective effort. They committed to accelerate the elimination of harmful practices in Africa through an integrated and multisectoral response at continental, regional, national, and decentralized levels to protect girls at risk of gender-based violence and promote education and livelihood opportunities. 

“Education is the surest way to lift girls out of the violence of early marriages and unsafe childbirth. The Republic of Niger is committed to promote the elimination of harmful practices, and access to education for all girls by 2023 is a key priority,” stressed H.E. President Mohammed Bazoom. 

This summit ensured that the voices of children and young people were heard and their involvement in the decision-making process. On the panel on “Girls engaging with decision-makers and actors to end harmful practices against Girls,” young people and children discussed the challenges and solutions to the issues affecting them. They proposed concrete recommendations on how lawmakers, civil society, and other stakeholders can create an enabling environment for young people to leverage their role and engagement as the key actors of change. 

“We are your future. If we educate a girl, we educate a continent. The world has shifted our value from dowry to global ambitions. Believe in our aspirations. We walk ahead without ever leaving anyone behind, for we know no other way to carry than by holding our heads up high,” said a young girl from Uganda. 

“We are the African girls. Our voices echo the voice whispered before our birth. Know our worth. We are the army for peace and prosperity, and we will make the Africa we want” added, another girl from Zimbabwe. 

SRSG Najat Maalla M’jid stressed that the children and young people are part of the solution and are already taking an active role in responding to the challenges they face in this region.

“We must never forget that the children, boys, and girls, are the most important actors who must be involved in the efforts to end harmful practices and discrimination,” said Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid. 

Children are not only the future; they are the present. Therefore, investing in children will largely contribute to the realization of the Sustainable Agenda 2030 and the African Agenda 2040 and 2063. This requires a sustained mobilization of all key actors at regional, central, territorial, and community levels, involving central and local governments, civil society organizations, traditional and religious leaders, the private sector, as well as local communities and children and young people. 

“A resilient, safe, healthy, inclusive, just, and equitable Africa for all children and young people cannot be achieved without children,” concluded SRSG Najat Maalla M’jid.