COPENHAGEN/GENEVA, 15 March 2005 - "Family violence claims the lives of four children under the age of fourteen each day in the European Region – over 1300 every year – according to World Health Organization (WHO) data. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, with many thousands more enduring years of violence and abuse for every child that dies.
“For the survivors, the impact lasts a lifetime,” says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Data confirm that abused children pay a long-term price as they are more likely to take dangerous risks in their own lives. This adds to the price our whole society pays with suicides, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency, and domestic violence”.
This evidence is a prelude to the “Stop Violence Against Children. Act Now” regional consultation for Europe and central Asia, to be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 5–7 July 2005, hosted by the Government of Slovenia (http://www.act-now.si/). The consultation will tap into the expertise of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WHO, and the Council of Europe, while maximizing input from civil society – including children themselves. It will also feed into next year’s study on violence against children, led by United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to wipe out violence and abuse against children.
The United Nations study on violence against children (http://www.violencestudy.org/r25) will look at the different settings in which children experience violence, including the home. The place where they spend up to 90% of their time – the place where they should be safest – is for too many the most dangerous of all. A UNICEF youth poll in 2001 found that 60% of children in Europe and central Asia say they face violent or aggressive behaviour at home from parents and caregivers.
“The cosy assumption that children are always safe and protected in their own homes is called into question by the evidence,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltics States. “The study on violence against children challenges us to get a true picture of the scale of the problem but it also presents us with a powerful opportunity to address it. How can we support families in stress and prevent violence in the first place? And how can society create an environment that protects children? These are questions we want to answer.”
The consultation will be a key opportunity to answer these questions and to monitor children’s views and perceptions of their experience, which is the voice of their suffering.
Facts and figures Accurate and meaningful data on child abuse are hard to come by. Different cultures have different attitudes about what is, and what is not, acceptable parenting practice. Official statistics rarely reveal a great deal about patterns of child abuse. The situation is further complicated by differing legal and cultural definitions of abuse and neglect between countries. What is clear is that there is absolute agreement across all cultures that child abuse is unacceptable.
The death toll of young lives in Europe is part of a global problem that – according to the 2002 WHO World report on violence and health – claims about 57 000 victims a year.
In the European Region, WHO records that four children aged 0–14-years-old are killed every day, or over 1300 every year, as a result of homicides or assaults.
There are large differences between countries in the Region: child mortality from homicide is nearly three times higher in the Commonwealth of Independent States than it is in the European Union.
According to the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, a small group of countries appear to have an exceptionally low incidence of child deaths from maltreatment, while others show levels that are four to six times higher.
Recent research published by the Council of Europe shows that the vast majority of children throughout Europe have experienced some form of corporal punishment.
European infants and young children are most likely to be abused in the home environment. According to a WHO survey, this is the place where they spend up to 90% of their time.
60% of children in Europe and central Asia say they face violent or aggressive behaviour at home from parents and caregivers, according to a UNICEF youth poll in 2001.
Drug and alcohol abuse are among the most common and serious family problems contributing to violence against children in the home.
Estimates from industrialized countries suggest that between 40% and 70% of men who use physical violence against their partners also use violence against their children, and that about half of the women who are physically abused also abuse their children.
The good news is that child deaths from maltreatment appear to be declining in the great majority of industrialized countries.
The solutions The study will recall that all countries must enact or repeal their legislation as necessary in order to prohibit all forms of violence, however slight, within the family. The different patterns of family abuse must be addressed. And concrete interventions must be made for different groups of children according to their age, their vulnerability, and their evolving capacities as subjects of human rights.
Recent high-profile tragedies involving the fatal abuse of children by parents and caregivers in Europe have highlighted the need for early detection and an integrated approach by different sectors such as social services, health workers, schools and the police, to prevent child abuse in the so-called “privacy” of home and family. Cases such as the deaths of Victoria Climbie in the United Kingdom and of two children in France might have been averted had there been good communication and integration among these different sectors.
The World report on violence and health outlines some effective solutions to combat child abuse and neglect, including:
training in parenting – providing parents with information about child development, and teaching them to use consistent child-rearing methods and how to manage family conflict; and
home visiting programmes – involving regular visits from a nurse or other health professional to the homes of families in special need of support with childcare or where there is an identified risk of child maltreatment.
NOTE TO EDITORS The United Nations Secretary-General has appointed an independent expert, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, to lead a global study on violence against children. The study, rooted in children’s right to protection from all forms of violence, aims to promote action to prevent and eliminate violence against children at international, regional, national and local levels. The study is a United Nations-led collaboration, mandated by the General Assembly, to draw together existing research and relevant information about the forms, causes and impact of violence affecting children and young people (up to the age of 18 years). A major report will be published in 2006 and recommendations presented to the United Nations General Assembly.
Nine regional consultations will pull together regional information on violence against children in four settings: the home, the community, the school and state institutions. These will articulate the agenda for action and contribute recommendations to the study. The regional consultation for Europe and central Asia will take place in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 5–7 July 2005, and will be hosted by the Government of Slovenia.