A 'Vector of Rights' Approach for Public Health

Towards an Intersectional Human Rights Framework for Considering the Prevention and Treatment of Harms to Girl Child Soldiers

Published in: Australian journal of human rights. 13, no. 2, July 2008, p. 65-98

by Annalijn Conklin, Benjamin Mason Meier

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The pervasive use of girls as soldiers for sexual and domestic purposes is a common global phenomenon. From a public health perspective, the impact of sexual violence on the mental and physical health and development of these girls is profoundly different from that experienced by boys and adult women in armed conflict. Human rights frameworks-restricted to either women or children-do not address this complex public health reality. This article seeks to develop a rights-based structure of analysis to address these intersecting gender-and age-specific harms. Through a case study of the civil war in Sierra Leone, the authors find that girl soldiers experience a cumulative vulnerability that is not merely additive in nature-girls do not simply face sexism in one context and age-related prejudice in another. Acknowledging this complex reality, this article advances an intersectional rights-based public health paradigm that would view these composite oppressions as interacting and mutually reinforcing under a vector of rights. Where there is no singular state apparatus to confront these overlapping harms and fulfill these human rights obligations together, the article concludes that international organizations, as representatives of the international community, have a heightened duty as non-state actors to protect girls from harm, proposing complementary international institutions to realize this vector of rights.

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