A cultural conundrum

Practices harmful to children are a fundamental contravention of their rights – whether the right to health, the right to education, or the right to be protected from physical or psychological harm, mistreatment and exploitation. However, the reality is that harmful practices are widespread and persistent. They tend to be integrated into social norms and cultural practice. That these harmful practices are deemed ‘cultural’ makes the path to their eradication sensitive and nuanced. As such, solutions need to be informed by local knowledge, locally-led and founded in children’s rights above all else.

Making the local, global, and the global, local

Advocacy and legislation informed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is a hugely important part of the struggle to end these practices, but legislation can’t change behaviour alone. The key to the long term and inherited rejection of harmful practices is a willing shift in social norms; a shift in cultural practice that proudly retains cultural relevance and prioritises the rights of the child. To do this, solutions must be locally-led.

To do this at scale requires not just an investment in the grassroots, but a recognition that understanding ‘what works’ is only valuable if you can incorporate this understanding into a network of initiatives tackling harmful practices in myriad cultural settings. To maximise the impact of efforts to bring an end to harmful practises, we need to look beyond isolated programmes to multi-layered initiatives that channel grassroots knowledge to international networks and bring the lessons of global experience to grassroots activities.

HDF’s role

For over a decade HDF has prioritised two harmful practices that have a hugely detrimental impact on children in the societies in which they are prevalent – female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). At least 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM in 30 countries, and a further 4 million are at risk every year. Every year 15 million girls are married under the age of 18. Having supported the emergence of the hugely successful Girls Not Brides partnership to end child marriage, HDF is continuing its focus on tackling female genital mutilation throughout our sunset phase. Our diverse, complementary and multi-national group of partners combine community engagement, media campaigns, leader training and research in pursuit of a world without FGM.