International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October

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On 11 October each year since 2012 the world has celebrated the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child.

Adolescent girls in non-Western societies face many challenges, relating crucially to domestic violence, forced marriage and the denial of many of their rights, such as completing their education or being able to travel.

In Oman, in particular, girls face numerous challenges that can be said to constitute violations of their rights and privacy. For example:

Girls are forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). This is usually carried out at a very early age, without them being aware of the practice, or the right to consent or object.

Although the government bans the practice of FGM in both public and private hospitals, and has made FGM a criminal offence if it takes place in a hospital, it has nevertheless not taken any serious measures to prevent the practice or combat it socially.

Although Article 7 of the Personal Status Law prohibits marriage under the age of 18, Article 10 of the same law permits judges to authorise the marriage of anyone below that age – which generally means underage girls – if this is seen to be in their best interests!

Article 44 of the Omani Penal Code allows parents and guardians to use violence against their minor children as long as it is good for them – and parents have the right to discipline their children.

Numerous reports from the Royal Oman Police and the Family Protection Centre make clear that many women suffer varying degrees of violence, and the majority of victims do not turn to the authorities.

Rape victims are forced to give birth to any child conceived through rape, as abortion is considered a crime in Oman, even where the pregnancy results from rape or coerced sex.

If a rape victim decides to bring charges against the perpetrator, she is liable to punishment along with the accused. The Omani Centre for Human Rights therefore believes that many rape-related cases go unreported, whether for fear of punishment or for fear of scandal in the community.

Girls who live in university or college accommodation are forbidden to leave the premises unless they have permission from their guardian, or for study purposes.

It is usually girls who are in full-time education or are unemployed who are the most at risk of violence, since girls are dependent on men economically and for their basic daily needs. This always makes them vulnerable to violence and unable to complain for fear of repercussions that might result in the loss of their source of sustenance.

Girls’ choices regarding their education or even employment prospects are normally dependent of the consent of male family members, with the result that they are sometimes unable to study or work in the fields that they wish to pursue.