This oral statement was presented by ARROW’s Naz Chowdhury during the Annual Meeting on the Rights of the Child at the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council. To watch the full intervention, click HERE.
Good morning everyone.
I am Nawmi Naz Chowdhury, and I am making this statement on behalf of the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), Right Here Right Now partnership and other CSOs from the Asia and the Pacific region. This statement is endorsed by over 60 NGOs.
Through this statement, we would like to raise our concerns regarding the human rights violation of the girl child, adolescent girls and girls with disabilities, in particular with respect to their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). State commitment to various international instruments and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) obliges governments to ensure a girl’s right to develop into adulthood through making SRHR related services, information and education accessible and available to all girls including adolescent girls and girls with disabilities. However, a number of factors continue to threaten the wellbeing of the girl child and adolescent girls in Asia and the Pacific region, making them vulnerable to sexual and reproductive health issues, sometimes with life-threatening consequences.
In that respect, we would like to draw your attention to problems such as sexual and gender-based violence and discriminatory, harmful practices which robs girls of this region, of all ages and diversity, of their ‘health, future, and their lives’. Harmful traditional and cultural practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) significantly hinders the full achievement of better health for the girl child and adolescents and further marginalizes girls and adolescent girls belonging to minority communities such as Dalit and Indigenous communities and those in humanitarian crisis/disaster situations.
Governments in the region have a duty to prohibit such practices against the girl child and adolescent girls. As an example, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) explicitly calls upon governments to abolish traditional practices that are prejudicial to children, in particular girls and adolescent girls. However, FGM/C is not legally prohibited in any of the ten countries in Asia where it is practiced on girls and adolescent girls and while some countries in the region have enacted laws to combat CEFM, the prevalence is alarmingly high in the South Asia sub-region. Protecting the health and wellbeing of the girl child, adolescent girls, including those with disabilities, is even more important in today’s context with the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, as the crisis has exacerbated long-standing issues arising from gender inequality, harmful gender and disability based stereotyping, sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination against the girl child, adolescent girls and girls with disabilities.
For most countries in Asia and the Pacific, SRHR of girls, including adolescent girls, is yet to be prioritized in the realization of ensuring rights to healthcare for all. Girls, especially adolescent girls with disabilities are the most affected by this, causing their SRHR to be neglected throughout their lifetime. Lack of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) affects their awareness and understanding about their health, bodies, and sexuality contributing to their vulnerability as they are unable to protect themselves against sexual harassment, exploitation, sexual and gender-based violence, and abuse. Intersectional discrimination along with accessibility issues further complicates their ability to avail necessary SRHR related information and services. The absence of holistic, reliable and disaggregated data from this region on the situation of girls and adolescent girls, including those with disabilities, prevents policies and programmes to make informed interventions to protect the SRHR for girls and adolescents with disabilities.
The aforementioned issues, predominantly faced by girls between the ages of 0-16, have multifaceted lifelong consequences and exposes them to SRHR concerns such as unintended pregnancy, unsafe and illegal abortion, maternal mortality, sexually transmitted infections and diseases, and various obstetric complications like fistula. Additionally, it jeopardizes the girl child’s right to health, optimal nutrition, well-being and education including CSE, opportunities for empowerment and social development, and protection from violence and abuse. In the long run, this adversely affects the physical, psychological, emotional, social, and economic development of the girl child and adolescent girls. For adolescent girls in particular, other issues such as stigma, discrimination, lack of privacy, breach of confidentiality associated with seeking SRHR related services and information prevents them from seeking necessary health care related services and information. Also, absence of CSE leaves them in the dark about their right to consent, bodily autonomy, bodily integrity, and their sexuality. 
We, therefore, urge the States in Asia and the Pacific region to take a robust, inclusive, and sustained approach that is both human rights and evidence based and accounts for vulnerabilities based on gender, age and disability by taking the following steps:
- Uphold commitments to various international human rights treaties namely CEDAW, CRC, CRPD, ICESCR, ICCPR and commitments to Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda, the Beijing Platform for Action and the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action to protect and uphold the SRHR of the girl child and adolescents and carry out human rights and constitutional obligations to adequately resource and ensure that all girls of all ages and in all of their diversity, have safe, timely and undisrupted access to full range of health information, supplies and services including sexual and reproductive health information and services.
- Abolish/repeal discriminatory, harmful traditional and cultural practices affecting the girl child and adolescent girls and enact/implement laws that protect all girls and adolescent girls from every form of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices.
- Adopt community-centered, holistic, comprehensive and coordinated strategies that strengthen child protection systems, improve protection mechanisms such as safe shelter and access to justice and enhance their access to health care including sexual and reproductive health.
- Prioritize the SRHR needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized girls and adolescent girls at the heart of health policies and plans and adopt inter-sectoral and multi-pronged solutions to improve SRHR of the girl child by raising awareness on the issue and by funding adequate financial, human and infrastructural resources to (i) strengthen, broaden the scope and equip such systems with the capacity to deal with the SRHR needs of all girls, regardless of their age, marital status and disability and (ii) train medical and health professionals and practitioners on SRHR for girls, adolescent girls and girls with disabilities to enable accessible sexual and reproductive health services that is free from discrimination, caters for their mental health and wellbeing and protects privacy and confidentiality of information (iii) implement health policies and universal access to health and health strategies that ensures the most comprehensive and highest attainable standard of physical and mental health for girls of all ages including their SRHR.
- Promote and ensure CSE to girls from an early age to inform them about their bodies, sexuality and SRHR including in specialized schools for children with disabilities. Ensure that information and communication related to CSE, is available in accessible format to benefit girls and adolescent girls with disabilities so that they can learn about their SRHR, overall well-being and gain knowledge on topics related to consent, choice, bodily autonomy and integrity.
- Gather and analyze data to assess the situation of SRHR with regards to girls, adolescent girls, and those with disabilities to enable policymakers and stakeholders to make informed decisions on policies and programmes concerning them and strengthen its overall national monitoring mechanisms.
This statement is endorsed by the following organizations:
- ASV (One Vision Alliance)
- Association for Prevention of Septic Abortion, Bangladesh (BAPSA)
- Association of Youth NGOs in Nepal (AYON)
- BRAC Education, Bangladesh
- BRAC JPG, Bangladesh
- Bandhu Social Welfare Society
- Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST)
- Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC)
- Blue Diamond Society (BDS)
- CDS Park
- Cannan Development Association (CDA)
- Centre for Gender and Sexuality Studies
- Choice for Youth and Sexuality
- CommonHealth India
- Equality Now
- Family Planning Association Nepal (FPAN)
- Family Planning Association of Bangladesh (FPAB)
- Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities Nepal (FSGMN)
- Girls Not Brides, Asia
- Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
- Independent Youth Forum Papua
- Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association
- International Planned Parenthood Federation
- International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP)
- KITASAMA (Indonesia Coalition for Sexuality and Diversity)
- LOOM Nepal
- LPPSP FISIP UI
- Latin American and Carribean Women’s Health Network
- Naripokkho, Bangladesh
- Oboyob, Bangladesh
- Orchid Project
- Pamflet Generasi
- RHSTEP, Bangladesh
- RUWON Nepal
- Restless Development Nepal
- Right Here Right Now (Young Omang), Pakistan
- Rutgers Indonesia
- SERAC, Bangladesh
- Sisters in Islam
- The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR)
- The Kalsom Movement
- The YP Foundation
- Unite for Body Rights, Bangladesh
- Visible Impact
- We Speak Out, India
- Women with Disabilities Foundation (WDDF), Bangladesh
- YIFOS Indonesia
- Yayasan Kasehatan Perempuan
- Youth Action Nepal (YoAC)
- Youth Development Centre