Twenty-five years ago, world leaders at the International Conference on Population and Development agreed that countries must uphold each individual’s right to make free and informed choices over their own sexual and reproductive health. This includes the right to live without gender-based violence and free of harmful practices that violate girls’ rights, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

Rates of both FGM and child marriage have declined in the intervening years. In 1994, in 24 countries where FGM is practiced and data are available, 49 per cent of girls were affected. Today, 31 per cent are. In 1994, 34 per cent of young women were married before age 18. Today, it is 25 per cent.

Yet by some measures, the situation is actually getting worse.

Because of population growth, the absolute number of girls affected by these practices is actually increasing.

“We’re needing to speed up,” said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem at a high-level panel at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday.

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