Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Persistence and Resistance of Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) Perpetuated against Girls in Africa and Asia

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Persistence and Resistance of Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) Perpetuated against Girls in Africa and Asia

Article excerpt


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN General Assembly, 1948; 1989 respectively) define traditional or cultural practices considered 'harmful' as those that hold negative consequences for the physical or psychological health of affected individuals and have adverse social and political implications (Hanzi, 2006). HTPs that meet this definition include son preference and its associated prejudice against the girl child including female foeticide and infanticide, child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Whilst both males and females are subjected to HTPs it is women and girls who suffer the most thereby making HTP a particularly gendered issue. Son preference, child marriage and FGM are considered the most prevalent HTPs (Stop Violence against Women, 2010) and will form the focus of this review. These practices severely violate women's rights to non-discrimination, health, and bodily integrity as well as infringing their rights to life, liberty and security of person. Due to the persistence of these practices, the purpose of this review is to analyse these HTPs to understand the commonalities underpinning the practice of FGM, son preference and child marriage which allow their perpetuation. This is particularly important in view of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030. 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the SDGs, which include ending harmful practices against women and girls with son preference, child marriage, and FGM being cited as the top action priority (United Nations, 2015). It is therefore essential that these three HTPs are addressed simultaneously.

Son Preference

Worldwide, some of the most harmful traditional practices against women and girls stem from a preference towards the male child. Son preference and the associated negative impact on the girl child is most evident in Southern and Central Asian countries, Northern Africa, and Eastern Europe (WHO, 2011). In extreme circumstances the consequences of son preference include female foeticide, infanticide and sex-selected abortion (Chen, Yuyu, Hongbin Li & Meng, 2013). There is also an excessive risk of neglect and mortality in young girls, including reduction in the quality of prenatal care for girls, differential vaccination rates (Oster, 2009), unequal allocation of intra-household resources (Basu & Jong, 2010), differential breastfeeding behaviour (Jayachandran & Kuziemko, 2011) and differences in parental time allocation (Barcellos, Carvalho, & Lleras-Muney, 2010). These all result in skewed population sex ratios which favour males (Pande & Malhotra, 2006).

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

FGM includes all procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (WHO, 2014). It is estimated that worldwide more than 200 million girls and women have been 'mutilated'. It is predominantly carried out on young girls between infancy and 15 years and is highly concentrated in a swath of countries from the Atlantic coast to the Horn of Africa, in areas of the Middle East and in some countries in Asia (UNICEF, 2016) with evidence that it also exists in areas of South America (UNFPA, 2011, UNICEF, 2016), and in some parts of Europe, North America and Australia (UNICEF, 2013, 2016). The practice carries with it severe physical and psychological health complications (WHO, 2008; Kizilhan, 2010) and is a human rights abuse against girls and women, which meets the UN definition for torture (United Nations General Assembly, 1984).

Child Marriage

Child marriage is the formal marriage or informal sexual union of children under the age of 18 years (UNICEF, 2014). Whilst boys are at risk of being victims of child marriage, it disproportionately impacts girls (Girls not Brides, 2016). …

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