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Adolescent and female children

Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • Adolescent girls and female children are at heightened risk of violence during times of conflict and crisis.  Because of their age, gender, and restricted social status, girls can be exploited, harassed, and abused by family members, military, armed groups, police, peacekeeping forces and humanitarian aid workers (Siddiqi, 2012).  When armed conflict weakens normal community structures of support and protection, their vulnerability is increased (Holste-Roness, 2006).
    • Increased domestic responsibilities.  Adolescent  girls and female children may assume a great deal of domestic  responsibility during times of crisis, taking care of younger siblings,  managing households if parents are absent. Young girls may become heads  of households when their parents or caretakers are killed during wartime  (Siddiqi, 2012).
    • Early marriages. Because of poverty brought on by conflict, girls may be married off at a young age by their families to acquire dowry (Siddiqi, 2012).
    • Lack of access to reproductive health services. Because  they are often overlooked in healthcare and outreach efforts,  adolescent girls and female children may lack safe, respectful, and  youth-friendly access to reproductive health information and services (Siddiqi, 2012).
    • Girls may become child mothers as a result of rape (see section on children born of rape).
    • Unsafe livelihoods. Adolescent girls and  female children may resort to unsafe measures such as transactional sex  to earn livelihoods – sometimes pressured by family members.  Others are  forced into labor and sex trafficking (Schulte & Rizvi, 2012).
    • Isolation and lack of access to education. Heavy  domestic burdens can isolate girls from friends, school, and support  networks.  Girls may be denied the same access to education as boys,  putting them at a disadvantage socially and economically.  Some reports  show that girls who are not in school report higher incidences of  violence against them (Schulte & Rizvi, 2012).   Girls who have survived violence during armed conflict may be separated  from their families, psychologically and physically traumatized, and  unable to access necessary healthcare or education (Holste-Roness, 2006).
    • Girls associated with armed forces face particular dangers.  In conflict areas girls are at risk of  abduction, recruitment, or voluntary conscription into armed forces,  where they become soldiers and sexual or domestic slaves (Schulte & Rizvi, 2012) .

For more information, see the following resources:

Women's Refugee Commission, 2014. "Strong Girls, Powerful Women: Program Planning and Design for Adolescent Girls in Humanitarian Settings. Available in English.

Mazurana, D. and Carlson, K. 2006. “The Girl Child and Armed Conflict: Recognizing and Addressing Grave Violations of Girls’ Human Rights.” United Nations Division of the Advancement of Women, expert group meeting in Florence, Italy, 25-28 September 2006. Available in English.

Save the Children. 2005. “Forgotten Casualties of War: Girls in Armed Conflict.” Available in English.

Verhey, B. 2004. “Reaching the Girls: Study on Girls Associated with Armed Forces and Groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Save the Children.  Available in English.

  • Social norms may prevent girls from speaking out publicly about safety issues and instances of abuse (Siddiqi, 2012). 

For research and statistics on violence and risk factors faced by adolescent girls, as well as promising practices and programmes being implemented in various areas, see:  Bruce, J. 2011.

See also: Savarese, L. 2009. “Refugee Girls: The Invisible Faces of War.” Women’s Refugee Commission:

The Coalition for the Adolescent Girl convened in 2011 a two-part consultation with experts in humanitarian response, gender issues, and child protection, to articulate the urgent need for new humanitarian strategies around adolescent girls. The report Missing the Emergency: Shifting the Paradigm for Relief to Adolescent Girls defines the current contours of practice, discourse, and advocacy around this population.

The UN Adolescent Girls Task Force (UNAFTF) co-chaired by UNFPA and UNICEF was established in 2007, and supports programmes in post-conflict countries, focusing particularly in 10-14 year old girls.

The Together for Girls Initiative is a global private-public partnership dedicated to ending violence against children, with a focus on sexual violence against girls. A hallmark of this initiative is the groundbreaking data generated through the Violence Against Children Surveys, designed by the Center for Disease Control, and designed to determine the prevalence and circumstances surrounding emotional, physical and sexual violence against males and females prior to age 18 and the incidence of violence in the last 12 months for girls and boys 13 to 17 years of age. Some of these surveys have been implemented in conflict and post-conflict countries.