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Girls worldwide are ‘living in fear of abuse’

Girls at school in Pakistan: many adolescents worldwide do not see themselves as having any rights, research shows. Photograph: BK Bangash/AP

Girls across the world face a future where they have no control over who they marry or when they have babies, according to a survey by children’s charity Plan International.

The Hear Our Voices research showed that 52% of girls surveyed felt they were unlikely to be able to decide for themselves whether or not they got pregnant, while 40% said they were unlikely to be able to choose their husband. Plan spoke to more than 7,000 adolescent girls and boys in 11 countries across Asia, South America and Africa – the charity claims it is the largest study of its type to date.

It found that despite improvements in girls’ rights in recent years, insecurity, abuse and fear is widespread; 80% of girls in one area of Bangladesh and 77% in one area of Ecuador said they “seldom” or “never” felt safe. More than a quarter didn’t feel safe going to school, and more than a third couldn’t use school toilets because of fear of assault. Around half of girls (51%) felt afraid to say what they thought in front of boys and men.

The report also highlights how adolescent girls did not see themselves as having rights, some did not even see themselves as deserving of rights. Tanya Barron, chief executive of Plan UK, said the survey showed that charities needed to listen to young and adolescent women. “Whether they are burdened with housework that prevents them attending school or at risk of teenage pregnancy and sexual assault, girls are being abused and limited every day,” she said.

“While things are getting better, girls are still constantly subjected to injustices that stunt their opportunities in life. We need to listen to girls and provide them with a safe space to be heard.

“Much work needs to be done to accelerate change and tackle entrenched violations of girls’ rights so that they feel empowered and fulfil their potential,” said Barron.

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