Themes » Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights » 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” – Graca Machel (International advocate for women’s and children’s rights)

Harmful practices refer to behaviours and practices which are harmful to people’s physical and mental health. These practices are against people’s rights. People have the right to live free from harm, oppression, discrimination and violence. This includes harmful practices directed towards both men and women.

Harmful traditional practices refer to behaviours 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:

Forced or early marriages refer to a marriage, in which one or both parties (boys or girls) are younger than 18 years old and do not consent to the marriage. Forced or early marriage is also called a child marriage and can bring a lifetime of disadvantages for the children involved. It goes against children’s rights to health, education, 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.

Honour based violence or honor killings, where relatives, including fathers or brothers, kill girls in the name of family ’honor’, for example, for having sex outside marriage, or refusing an arranged marriage.


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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, 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 even 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!