At this writing, Malala Yousufzai, 14, remains in hospitalized with “non-life-threatening” injuries after being shot in the head and neck Tuesday in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Malala is known and admired in the violent region, according to The Associated Press, for advocating education for girls.
The Taliban quickly took credit for the attack, saying of Malala’s activities, “This was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish the chapter.”
Malala’s attack came just two days before the first International Day of the Girl Child, as declared at the 2011 United Nations General Assembly.
This year’s activities, sponsored by groups like UNICEF, UN Women and USAID, were created around the theme of ending the practice of forcing girls as young as 10 to be married, but Malala’s shooting brings into sharp focus the urgency of acting on many fronts for the world’s girls.
While improving the lives of all children who live in poverty and repression is vitally important, girls face challenges that are theirs uniquely because of their gender.
In September, a Pakistani high court ordered a probe into allegations that seven girls, reported in local media to be between 4 and 10, were bartered to settle a blood feud. The practice of selling or bartering girls is illegal, but still practiced in more tribal parts of the country, according to an AP report.
The United Nations estimates that globally, one-third of women now between 20 and 24 first married before they were 18. Of them, one-third married before they were 15. Early marriage disrupts and often ends a girl’s education. It increases her risk of facing abuse, often at the hands of her older husband or in-laws. It increases the risk of early pregnancy with related complications, including HIV and obstetric fistula. Such pregnancy complications are the leading cause of death for girls in developing countries.
Increasing girls’ access to education decreases their chances of being pushed into early marriages. Girls with secondary schooling have only one-sixth the chance of marrying while children as less educated girls, according to the United Nations. They are more likely to avoid poverty or lift themselves from it. They can build stronger families, which in turn, strengthens their communities.
Malala Yousufzai, when she was 11, began writing a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym. When she was 12, she began to speak out about the need for education for girls, according to the AP report.
When she was 13, she chaired a children’s assembly, supported by UNICEF, and wrote, “Girl members play an active role. We have highlighted important issues concerning children, especially promoting girls’ education in Swat,” according to the AP.
Malala blogged that she stopped wearing her uniform on the way to and from school after she was warned that it would call unwanted attention to her. But her dress did not matter when an armed man boarded a bus full of children, asking for her by name.
The Taliban fighter who shot Malala and the Taliban spokesman who claimed responsibility for it are despicable in taking their fight to children. But the spokesman’s phrase is dead-on, even if he misplaced it.
It is the shooting of Malala that is a new chapter of obscenity, and now we must finish it.
Education is the key.