Harmful Traditional Practices

Harmful Traditional Practices

“We should be respectful but we must also have the courage to stop harmful practices that impoverish girls, women and their communities” – Graça Machel (International advocate for women’s and children’s rights)

Harmful practices refer to behaviors and practices which are harmful to people’s physical, social and mental well-being. These practices go against people’s human rights and are directed towards men, women and people with another gender identity. People have the right to live free from harm, oppression, discrimination and violence. All around the world, an enormous number of children have experienced some form of harmful practice, however, girls are at much greater risk. Thus, harmful traditional practices refer to behaviors and practices which have been committed primarily against women and girls in certain communities and societies for so long that they are considered, or presented by perpetrators, as part of accepted cultural practice.

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International human rights protect people against harmful traditional practices with the following rights:

  • Right to life and health

  • Right to non-discrimination on the basis of sex

  • Right to liberty and security

  • Right to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment


The most common harmful traditional practices are:

Child early and forced marriages and unions refer to a marriage, in which one or both parties (boys or girls) are younger than 18 years old. An early marriage can be considered a forced marriage, given one or both parties do not fully and freely consent to the marriage. Early marriages are often accompanied by adolescent pregnancy and can bring a lifetime of disadvantages for the children involved. It goes against a child's rights to health, education, work, being free from violence and exploitation.

Female genital mutilation or cutting is a traditional practice which refers to procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons. This practice has serious and sometimes lasting health consequences for girls and women.

Honor based violence, is another form of harmful practice. It can take many different forms and includes honor killings, where relatives, including fathers or brothers, kill girls in the name of family ’honor’, for having sex outside of marriage or refusing an arranged marriage for example. 

The harmful traditional practices described above are types of violence related to a person’s gender. You can call this gender based violence. Victims of harmful traditional practices can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including painful sex and urination, forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and even death.

Other types of gender based violence are any form of unwanted sexual contact (sexual abuse or harassment), or violence within a relationship or marriage.

The best way to prevent harmful traditional practices, is by speaking out against it and looking for help if necessary! 

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