The link between education and girls’ risk of abuse

Cycle of Violence

Girls’ low or non-existent education level can lead to a vicious cycle of vulnerability to violence. Those who drop out of school early to work, help with the household, or enter early marriage often face heightened risk of violence at the hands of employers, family members, spouses and other people in the community. Their lack of education can rob them of self-esteem and the ability and know-how to protect themselves or resist abuse. It can also perpetuate their experience as victims, and may manifest in their relationships with their peers, their own children and families. All of this can contribute to a cycle of gender discrimination, played out for example in their acceptance of violence as justified, or in their maintenance of unequal gender norms within the family (such as themselves valuing boys’ education over girls).

Early (or child) Marriage

In communities where child marriage is prevalent, such as in countries in Africa, South and West Asia, girls, sometimes as young as nine or ten, are typically taken out of school to be married to men significantly older. These child brides, who are robbed of their childhood and have to forego their education, often suffer domestic abuse, sexual violence and exploitation, and are at greater risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth because of their young age. (UNICEF, 2009, State of the World’s Children). The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that about 16 million adolescent girls aged between 15 and 19 give birth each year (mostly unplanned and unwanted). Because childbirth at an early age is associated with greater health risks for the mother, in many developing countries, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women in this age group (UNFPA, Focus on Adolescent Girls).

Sexual Exploitation 

Girls who drop out of school to enter the informal labour market (as domestic workers for example) are vulnerable to violence by their employers, and to sexual exploitation and trafficking—in Cambodia for example, an estimated 30 per cent of sex workers are under 18 years of age, having less than three years of basic schooling and little or no vocational skills. (UNICEF Cambodia, 2005, For Cambodian girls, education is antidote to poverty and sexual exploitation) In the United States, domestic trafficking and sexual exploitation of children is on the rise, with the majority of victims tending to be runaway or abandoned girls who are not in school. Girls turn to prostitution to survive and the vast majority work for pimps who use violence and forced drug use to control them. The average age at which these girls first become victims of prostitution is between 12 and 14 years. (U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Human Sex Trafficking).

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