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Rights Group Marks Women's Day With Dire Report

The human rights group Amnesty International issued a report ahead of the March 8 International Women's Day on the threats and abuse faced by school-age girls. Others, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, marked the day calling the world's attention to women's issues and appealing for change. Tendai Maphosa has this report for VOA from London.

The Amnesty International report zoomed in on the problems faced by school-age girls around the globe.

Amnesty says that girls face physical and psychological abuse from classmates as well as from teachers. It adds that some girls are also threatened with sexual assault by other students, are offered higher marks by teachers in exchange for sexual favors and are even raped.

Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice, in a speech to a group of influential women gathering in Brussels, said the International Women's Day is a day to focus on the problems women and girls still face in their daily lives.

Addressing a European Union-sponsored conference on women, she said women play a crucial in today's globalized world and in development.

"Poverty is rampant where women lack education and economic opportunity," said Rice. "Justice is thwarted when women are denied the right to play a political role in their nations; disease flourishes and spreads when women's perspectives are not taken into account in terms of disease prevention. In today's modern world, no country can achieve lasting success and stability and security if half of its population is sitting on the sidelines."

The Amnesty International report says the abuse of girls is in one form or another found around the globe, but it is the worst in countries experiencing conflict. The report refers to a 2006 study of schoolgirls in Malawi where 50 percent of girls said they had been touched in a sexual manner without permission by either their teachers or a fellow student. Another study, this time in the United States, found that 83 percent of girls in grades eight through 11 (aged around 12 to 16) in public schools experienced some form of sexual harassment.

Widney Brown, of Amnesty International, says societal attitudes at school must change.

"The reason we are targeting schools is because it's the responsibility of the government directly, they can't say this happens behind closed doors we don't know anything about it," said Brown. "A significant number of children are not getting access to even primary education and the majority of them are girls and we see violence as an obstacle to girls' access to education."

The report acknowledges that both girls and boys of school age can be the victims of violence. However, it says that girls are more likely to be the victims of certain types of abuse, such as sexual harassment and sexual assault. This, the report adds, undermines their self-esteem, educational success and long-term health and well being.