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Being A Teenage Girl Is Hard. Try Doing It As A Refugee

Nearly 50 million children have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced around the world. Close to half are girls.

19/09/2016 5:41 AM AEST | Updated September 19, 2016 09:45
AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian girl waits for the authorization to enter Turkey at a makeshift camp in the northern city of Idlib, near the Turkish village of Guvecci in Hatay.

Remember what it was like to be in your first relationship, navigate the politics of friendship circles and challenge the boundaries set by your overprotective parents and teachers?

Being a teenage girl in Australia is hard enough, but imagine what it must be like to be a teenage girl who has to leave her school, her friends and her war-ravaged home behind.

Imagine what it must be like to travel alone, crossing borders, living in refugee camps and taking the frightening journey by sea to find sanctuary in another country. To live in fear of being sexually assaulted, trafficked and exploited.

For millions of girls who are asylum seekers and refugees, this is their daily reality.

Ghalia is a 17-year-old Syrian girl who fled to Egypt in 2013 with her parents.

"My time in Syria was very difficult because my hometown was greatly affected by the fighting. One day, while I was at school, the building was bombed and that day I lost my best friend," she said.

"I think this has really negatively affected me, even today. After the bombing, my parents insisted on leaving Syria and moving to Egypt for our safety."

Nearly 50 million children have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced around the world. Close to half are girls. Out of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR, over 316,000 of them are girls aged 12 to 17-years-old.

Whether it's in the hell that is Nauru or refugee camps around the world, teenage girls who are seeking safety and sanctuary face extraordinary danger.

The Australian Human Rights Commission's Report on the conditions for children on Nauru documents the everyday challenges for teenage girls on Nauru.

One of these reports tells of the situation for a 13-year-old girl, who had only two pairs of underwear and only one she could use while on her period.

'She felt shame because she was an adolescent girl and each day she had to wash her underwear and hang them to dry in front of her father which was not culturally appropriate. She went for months without additional underwear despite multiple written requests,' reads the report.

Teen girls who are asylum seekers and refugees are one of the most at-risk groups when it comes to sexual violence, abuse and exploitation. Girls travelling alone, who become separated from their family and cut off from their communities, are particularly vulnerable to rape, sexual trafficking and exploitation.

Teenage girls who are displaced are at more risk of early and forced marriage and early pregnancies. In fact, the number of marriages involving Syrian girls under the age of 18 living in Jordan has risen from 13 percent to 32 percent.

Girls are also more likely than boys to be pulled out of school and less likely to return to school when they are displaced. Plan International's research has found that Syrian parents who feared for the security of their adolescent girls were more likely keep them at home rather than send them to school.

Right now, Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Peter Dutton are in New York preparing to represent Australia at the opening of the United Nations Refugee Summit tonight. And tomorrow, Turnbull will speak at the special Refugee Summit hosted by President Barack Obama. President Obama called the special leader's summit with the aim of uniting in a humane and coordinated response to the global refugee crisis.

This is a chance for world leaders to recognise and respond to the specific difficulties faced by girl migrants and refugees.

This is Australia's chance to make amends for the terrible circumstances we have placed children and girls who have come here seeking safety.

It presents an opportunity for Prime Minister Turnbull to step up and show leadership on the world stage.

While the world is watching, we want the Australian Government to commit to increasing our humanitarian intake to 30,000 a year and to bring those trapped on Nauru to safety here in Australia.

The question for Prime Minister Turnbull is a simple one: will he turn his back on the children, particularly girls, who are seeking safety and a better life for themselves and their families?

In Australia, we work hard to make sure that girls who are teenagers go to school, get to choose who they marry and live their lives free of sexual violence and abuse.

We need to work harder to make sure girls around the world who are asylum seekers and refugees, especially those seeking our protection in Australia, enjoy those rights too.

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