On International Day for the Girl Child on Monday, actor Ayushmann Khurrana, who has been appointed as Unicef's celebrity advocate for their global campaign Ending Violence Against Children (EVAC), said that discrimination and violence against girls is unacceptable and holds back the society.
Ayushmann, who has a daughter named Varushka, said: "As Unicef's Celebrity Advocate towards ending violence against children, I firmly believe that discrimination and violence against girls is unacceptable and holds us back as a developed and caring society.
"Covid-19 has added to the challenges faced by girls. With limited access to mobiles or the internet, girls have faced restrictions in accessing remote learning and in having their health, nutritional and social needs treated on par with the boys in their families.
"At the same time lockdowns for Covid prevention have increased incidence of gender-based violence. Latest data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that child marriages have increased by as much as 50 per cent during the pandemic."
Ayushmann said on the International Day of the Girl Child, attention needs to be drawn to the many challenges and discriminations girls face.
He said: "Promote girls' empowerment and ensure their human rights. We need to prioritize girls' education, treat their rights on par with those of boys, provide them with skills and livelihood opportunities and engage with boys and men to address patriarchal mindsets."
Ayushmann also highlights his goalposts as an EVAC advocate in India to educate people about the needs of the girl child.
He said: "My aim is to initiate powerful conversations that help all of us understand the challenges girls continue to live and grow with even today, and how we all can and must play our part in changing this. There are few simple ways in which we can all begin to make a difference."
Ayushmann said that the first step is towards making "ourselves aware of our own actions, within our own families".
He added: "Can we be aware of the small ways in which girls are discriminated against at home, such as eating after their brothers, not allowed to play outside, denied/restricted access to phones and the internet, different curfew times for girls and boys are a few that come to mind. Ending these practices, one family at a time, will change how we value girls and respect them.
"Secondly, with schools beginning to safely re-open now, it's important that all parents send their children, including girls back to school, while ensuring Covid protocols. Girls who finish school are less likely to marry young. Education and skilling contribute to making girls assertive in the decisions that shape their lives."
The actor shared that this leads to better results for children, both girls and boys, and creates a social environment where they can better achieve their full potential.
He said: "A lack of value on girls' education leads to a high incidence of child marriage, which perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of violence, poverty and ill-health.
"Even though India has made significant gains towards reducing the incidence of child marriage, one out of three child brides still lives in India."
He said that most importantly, as parents, friends, peers "we must engage with boys and men to promote positive gender practices and norms and end the culture of violence"