A 4 year-old girl died recently from cardiac arrest at Care Hospital in Nagpur, India after being raped by a 35 year old man, Firoz Khan. He was later apprehended by police and confessed to the crime. The girl was allegedly abducted from Ghansaur, a small town in central India, on April 17, and was found by her family the next day, unconscious and with severe head injuries. Though she was quickly airlifted to a hospital in Nagpur and put on a ventilator, she did not survive.
This incident was the latest in a series of brutal assaults on very young girls that have sparked outrage in the country and raised awareness about how women and girls are treated in India, and around the globe.
Statistics collected by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women about violence against women and girls worldwide paint a grim picture of the scope of the tragedy.
- Worldwide, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.
- An estimated 150 million girls under the age of 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.
- Most of this violence takes place within intimate relationships, with husbands or partners as the perpetrator.
- The first sexual experience of some 30 percent of women was forced. The percentage is even higher among those under the age of 15 at the time of their sexual initiation. Up to 45 percent of girls in this group reported that the experience was forced.
And the violence takes many forms:
- Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation.
- Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18. Women who marry early are more likely to be beaten or threatened, and more likely to believe that a husband might sometimes be justified in beating his wife.
- Women and girls are 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked across national borders annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
- Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience various forms of sexual harassment at work. In Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea 30 to 40 percent of women suffer workplace sexual harassment.
- In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools
- Conservative estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been the victims of rape and other forms of violence during recent conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.
Gender-based violence both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. It encompasses a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking of women and girls and several harmful traditional practices. Any one of these abuses can leave deep psychological scars, damage the health of women and girls in general, including their reproductive and sexual health, and in some instances, results in death.
Over the years, there have been many theories about the causes of violence against women range from biological to social, political and economic. To varying degrees, in many countries, women have restricted access, relative to their male counterparts, to education, health services and justice systems. Gender inequality is often rooted in social attitudes and traditions, and enshrined in a web of legal statutes.
The United Nations has developed a list of recommendations aimed at dismantling gender inequality in all its forms and ending the violence it spawns. But the very first step must be to bring this issue into the light where it can be acknowledged and acted upon at all levels of society. In India, the recent brutal attacks against young women and girls have brought a public furor and activism never seen before. This recognition of an intolerable situation is the first step to real change. The struggle of women around the world for equality and freedom from violence is one that we all share.