Posted at 12:07 PM ET, 10/11/2012

International Girls’ Day: Five facts about global girls’ rights

Balki Souley, a 14-year-old in Niger, lost her son in childbirth earlier this year after suffering from malnutrition for months, bleeding profusely and nearly dying.

Souley was one of the teen girls profiled in a recent story on the rising incidence of child marriage in Niger by the Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan Niger has the world’s highest rate of child marriage, with one out of every two girls marrying before the age of 15.

But Niger isn’t the only country in which girls’ childhoods are cut short by marriage, childbirth or abuse. The United Nations General Assembly designated Oct. 11 as International Girls’ Day in order to bring attention to the inequalities between boy and girl children around the world.

Here’s a look at the odds young women and girls around the world are up against:

• UNICEF describes child marriage as “the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls.” Every three seconds, a girl under the age of 18 is married somewhere in the world, according to Reuters’ TrustLaw

• Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19, according to the International Center for Research on Women.
Young Maasai girls write at a church house where they have sought shelter after escaping from female circumcission at their villages near Narok, some 170 kms west of Nairob. (TONY KARUMBA - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

• There are appoximately 2 million girls living with obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal. A fistula can cause chronic incontinence, leading to skin infections, kidney disease and social isolation. The World Health Organization says delaying the age of first pregnancy is one of the best ways to prevent obstetric fistula.

• Girls with higher levels of schooling are less likely to enter into child marriages. But in more than 100 countries, school is not free, and only 30 percent of girls are enrolled in secondary school.
7-year-old child bride Guddu Bai sits at the back of a truck after being wed in Biaora, about 135 kilometers from Bhopal, India, on May 7, 2011. (Prakash Hatvalne - ASSOCIATED PRESS)

• According to UN Women, about half of sexual assaults globally are committed against girls under the age of 16. And for about a third of women, the first sexual experience was forced, according to the agency.

Slate, partnering with the New America Foundation, has an interesting map showing gender disparities by country, based on metrics such as adolescent fertility, literacy rate and life expectancy. It may come as no surprise that countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East appear to be the most unequal, while Canada and Europe are the most equal:

They also point to one potential solution: Biometric identification, such as finger prints or retina scans, that would allow mobile or digital aid payments to be routed directly to women and girls instead of corrupt politicians.

By  |  12:07 PM ET, 10/11/2012

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