PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller pointed to the high levels of violence against Jamaican girls as a challenge, in a solemn message marking the first International Day of the Girl Child being observed today by the United Nations.
"In spite of the global progress in social, political, economic, and human rights which has been achieved by women, in some countries the girl child is still the victim of unacceptable cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, early marriages and other extreme forms of sexual violence," Simpson Miller complained.
"Here in Jamaica, we have been successful in ensuring equal access of boys and girls to the public education system. We have also seen the exceptional abilities of girls to perform in most spheres of public and academic life," said Simpson Miller who is the first woman prime minister of Jamaica.
But the "challenge for the Jamaican society is that of addressing the high levels of violence that are experienced by the girl child", she said, noting that state agencies mandated to ensure gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls had seen a rise in the incidence of rape, carnal abuse, incest, murders and trafficking of girls in Jamaica.
For that reason, she said, the establishment and recognition of International Day of the Girl Child was more than symbolic.
"Indeed, it must be understood as a call to action for governments and civil societies to boldly confront the scope and gravity of the continuing high levels of violence against the girl child... The girl child needs to experience her journey from girlhood to womanhood in an atmosphere of peace and an acknowledgment of her full human rights," Simpson Miller suggested.
"For us in Jamaica... we have no choice but to make today and forever, a day of justice for every woman and girl in our society."
In her message marking the day, Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women expressed indignation at "the cowardly attack on Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl in Pakistan who was targeted for speaking out on the rights of girls to education and to live free of violence".
"This attack is an attack against all people in the world who believe in human dignity and respect for all... As the world observes the first International Day of the Girl Child, I stress the urgent need to promote and protect the rights of girls around the world. Every girl, no matter where she is born, should be able to express her views, live free of violence and discrimination, and have a fair chance to reach her full potential," said Bachelet.