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Schoolgirls in the UK have called for street harassment to be made a criminal offence while taking part in a discussion about the topic in the House of Lords.

In the first parliamentary debate of its kind, organised by global children’s charity Plan International UK, 200 girls shared the views on various issues that they face today.

During the debate, they expressed how catcalling and other forms of street harassment can make them feel ashamed and self-conscious of their bodies and hold them back from realising their full potential.

The debate occurred following a survey of 1,0004 girls and young women conducted by Plan International UK and Opinium.

According to the findings of the survey, 40 per cent of girls and young women say that if street harassment were to be a made a criminal offence, then this could reduce the number of incidents of non-consensual touching and unsolicited sexual attention that they frequently experience in public.

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The study also found that 38 per cent of girls and young women think there should be easier means of reporting cases of sexual harassment, such as by text or online, while 30 per cent believe that having improved PSHE/RSE lessons in school could prevent street harassment from happening at all.

Aleyna, a schoolgirl from London, spoke about her experiences of street harassment while taking part in the parliamentary debate.

“Yesterday I was afraid to go to my local library to study for an exam,” she said.

“Why? Because I’m a young girl, and young girls just like me find it difficult to go out late just in case something happens to us.

“Do you see how this stops me from achieving my full potential – just because I’m a girl?”

Tanya Barron, chief executive of Plan International UK, emphasises the importance of listening to the concerns of girls with regards to street harassment.

“Girls are telling us loud and clear that they want street harassment to be taken more seriously,” she says.

“The results of both the debate in the House of Lords and the survey highlight the need to consistently put girls’ voices at the centre of any discussion about how the UK government tackles street harassment.

“It is vital that we continue to listen to girls’ experiences of harassment in public and to hear from them how it compromises their freedom, in order to find and effectively implement solutions to the barriers that they face.

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“Street harassment is not a trivial issue and Plan International UK is calling on the government to recognise street harassment in public as a form of gender-based violence, in its strategy to end violence against women and girls.”

According to a recent survey, nearly a third of women who take public transport say that they’ve experienced unwanted attention in the past year, with many of the victims stating that they don’t feel they can do anything about it.

-Independent UK