There are about 120 million girls under 20 worldwide who are victims of forced relationships or forced sexual acts, youths who can’t find safety inside their own homes, schools or workplaces.
They’re beaten, raped and forced to undergo genital mutilation. They’re also sold as slaves or forced to fight as soldiers in wars they have nothing to do with. Or they’re forcibly married (15 million suffer this fate each year), compelled to wed men much older than them. These are girls and teenagers whose lives are stolen by those who, in theory, should be caring for them — fathers, siblings, mothers or other relatives — but in actuality are their oppressors.
This is a phenomenon more common in developing countries, but it also involves us.
In Italy, two children are victims of sexual abuse every day and 1,000 every year, according to a report by Terre des Hommes, “Defenceless: The Condition of Girls in the World.” If we include other types of violence in addition to sexual, this figure rises to 5,383 cases in 2016, six out of 10 instances involving girls, signaling a dramatic increase of 6 percent compared with the previous year.
“The consequences of a lack of protection and promotion of childhood well-being are very severe and affect the later stages of life; furthermore, it represents a serious damage to society,” said Italian Senate President Pietro Grasso, speaking this week at the presentation of the report, which was broadcast on the eve of the International Day of the Girl.
The picture presented by the study is dramatic. Most victims of violence are females. In 2016, girls and women represented 58 percent of victims of violence, and the percentage goes up when it comes to sexual offenses. Girls account for 83 percent of victims of aggravated sexual violence, 82 percent of children exploited for pornography, 78 percent of minors under 14 years of age forced to perform sexual acts. In cases of voluntary homicides (which more than doubled in one year, from 13 to 21), 62 percent were girls.
Domestic violence is the cause of the majority of crimes against children. In 2016, 1,618 were the victims of domestic abuse (51 percent of whom were female) with an increase of 12 percent over the previous year.
The number of child victims of abuse in disciplinary or correctional facilities also increased (266 in 2016); this only counted instances where the victim was so injured they required hospitalization. The report also accounts for the social costs that some types of violence involve.
“According to a study by the World Bank, the elimination of early marriages could result in savings of $566 billion (by 2030) due to a reduction in welfare spending in individual states,” the report states.
On the occasion of the International Day of the Girl, Terre des Hommes launched the #OrangeRevolution campaign to promote a culture of respect and prevention of violence.
“There is an ever-increasing need for government commitment to find funds for fighting and preventing gender-based violence, targeting both Italy and developing countries,” said the president of Terre des Hommes, Raffaele K. Salinari. “But it also becomes increasingly important to form broad alliances, including different actors, able to intervene at all levels, involving not only governments but also the organizations already committed in the forefront of these issues, professionals, but also young people and the girls themselves.”