Pretoria - In commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child, President Jacob Zuma says girls must be taught their rights to give them the power to make meaningful decisions about their future.
"Young children must have a right to decide their own future. It is through education that we can help to empower them so they can make their own independent decisions on the lives that they want to lead," said Zuma on Thursday.
The Third Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations last year agreed to designate 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child, to be observed every year from 2012.
The President said the day should be used to reflect on social challenges that girl children are faced with as they grow. An important challenge was the education of girls.
"When children drop out of school early, it often leads to teenage pregnancies and life threatening risks such as HIV infections and other sexual and reproductive diseases, which prevents them from fulfilling their dreams.
"In most instances, it also prevents these young girls from breaking from the cycle of poverty that they have become entrenched in," said Zuma.
The problem of child marriages has been adopted as the major theme to commemorate the inaugural event this year.
"This decision was based on the evidence that early child marriage curtails the future of many young girls as they are forced to become young brides rather than further their studies or careers. The practice is a devastating human rights violation that robs many girls of their childhood, education, health and future," said the Presidency.
President Zuma urged government, civil society and families in general to play a part in nurturing young girls so that they realise their full potential and have prosperous futures.