UNFPA launches 2020 State of World Population report, calls for end to harmful practices


The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has launched the 2020 State of World Population (SWOP Report 2020) report and called for an end to harmful practices across the globe.

In the report, launched on Tuesday in New York, the fund’s Executive Director, Dr Natalia Kanem, said “harmful practices against girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their full potential.”

Kanem, who identified 19 harmful practices ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing that were considered to be human rights violations, said they remained persistent in spite of  widespread condemnation

She, however, noted that three harmful practices were especially widespread, namely Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage and extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons.

She explained that the practices limit the girls’ capacity to participate fully in societal activities and to reach their potential.

She said “the impact ripples throughout society and reinforces the very gender stereotypes and inequalities that gave rise to the harm in the first place. 

“And the COVID-19 pandemic makes our job harder and more urgent as so many more girls are now at risk.

“The executive director reiterated calls for joint action against all forms of Gender Based Violence and Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs), noting, however, that people who subject their daughters to these practices often meant well and had good intentions for doing so.

She, however, added that child marriage, FGM and son preference, which could be expressed as gender-biased sex selection or postnatal sex selection – cause profound and lasting harms and could even be deadly.

Kanem regretted that these practices were generally not performed out of malice. Rather, they were seen as being in the best interest of the family, or in the best interest of the girl herself.

According to her, child marriage may be intended to secure a girl’s future by making her husband’s family responsible for her care. It may be seen as a way to protect her from sexual violence, or as a way to safeguard her reputation if she becomes pregnant.

She said that many of the harmful practices were as a result of ignorance on the part of the parents who misplaced harm with good intentions

“FGM is often performed to ensure that a girl is accepted by her future spouse or by the broader community.

“And families may choose to have boys over girls in communities where sons alone are tasked with caring for their ageing parents or carrying on the family name.”

She said such supposed good intentions meant little to the girl who was forced to abandon school and her friends to be forcibly married, and face a lifetime of health problems because of mutilation from a harmful rite of passage.

She emphasised that “everyday, hundreds of thousands of girls around the world are harmed physically or psychologically with the full knowledge and consent of their families, friends and communities. And without urgent action, the situation is likely to worsen.”

The SWOP Report 2020 — Against My Will, Defying the Practices that Harm Women And Girls And Undermine Equality — emphasised that “the female is not a commodity to be traded, she is not an object of desire and not a burden to discard.”The report examines the origin and extent of harmful practices around the world, and what must be done to stop them. (NAN)