|Two girl students talk to Dilia Lozano, 14, a young leader in the Children’s Movement for Peace in Colombia. Photo was taken in 1999.|
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NEW YORK, 23 February 2005 – Young people from around the world spoke out to help stop violence against children, during UNICEF’s Voices of Youth e-discussion event on the topic ‘Enough silence! Make your voices heard about violence against children.’ The online inputs of these youth, along with contributions from many others, both children and adults, will help inform an ongoing United Nations-led study on violence against children.
Violence can occur anywhere and does not always leave visible marks. Furthermore, children who encounter violence are often reluctant to speak about it. Violence has roots in issues such as the power relations associated with gender, exclusion and societal norms that are not protective or respectful of children. All of this can lead to an insidious silence about what can and does happen.
Many of the young people who participated in the Voices of Youth e-discussion expressed their concerns about domestic violence. One participant observed: “Beating, threatening a child, hard labour, punishments, etc., must not be welcomed at all...It robs a child of the opportunities and the strength he needs to go and become the best he can be in life.” Another said: “Persistent gender discrimination and inequality towards the girl child manifested in the form of heinous practices like female infanticide and feticide, genital mutilation, domestic abuse and incest.”
Violence can have severe implications for children’s development. It can affect the health and the ability of the child to learn or even the willingness to go to school. Violence can also destroy children’s self-confidence and can undermine their ability to be good parents in the future.
A protective environment is key
Children are entitled to grow up in a protective environment. Creating a protective environment is the basis of UNICEF’s strategy for protecting children. UNICEF’s work focuses on doing this by raising awareness and enhancing capacities at various levels of society and in government.
Without protective mechanisms in place, children face many challenges in asserting their rights. Children need to be free to speak up about child protection concerns which affect them. The online discussion on violence against children on Voices of Youth has provided a venue for the participants to speak up, but appropriate opportunities need to be made available for all.
“Having children and young people involved in the study is somewhat unique at this level. Children and young people are not routinely invited in the UN processes,” says Amaya Gillespie, coordinator of the UN study on violence against children. “So I think it is quite a unique opportunity. And it is quite an earnest effort to have opinions of children taken into account.”
The UN-led study on violence against children, mandated by the General Assembly, seeks to bring together knowledge and insights from around the world, to help understand, reduce and prevent violence against children globally. There is a particular emphasis on ensuring that the views and experiences of children inform the study and its report.
The final report will be published in 2006 and its recommendations will be presented to the UN General Assembly. The objective is to assert the right of all children to protection from all forms of violence and the need for effective human rights mechanisms at the national and international levels to promote and safeguard this right.
A protective environment helps to ensure that children are in school, laws are in place to punish those who exploit children, governments are truly committed to protection, communities are aware of the risks which children face, civil society addresses certain ‘taboo’ issues, and monitoring is in place to identify children who are at risk of abuse and exploitation.