BANGKOK, 16 June 2005 – “Violence is not inevitable but rather an injustice that can be ended by recognizing that peace is a human right and that this responsibility belongs to everyone,” more than 250 delegates proclaimed at the end of the three-day Regional Consultation on Violence Against Children.
Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF Regional Director, urged all delegates to begin the work of putting the recommendations in place immediately rather than waiting for the UN Study on Violence Against Children report to give them direction. The Regional Consultation is one of nine meetings worldwide that will contribute to a worldwide UN study on violence against children that will be finalized in 2006.
“Everyday children are exposed to violence in their lives that continues to compromise their right to grow up loved, safe, respected and protected. It also threatens society’s social and economic stability, laying the seeds for larger conflict,” Singh said. “Yet the recommendations proposed at this Consultation are doable and demonstrate that this is a problem we can address if we are willing to commit at every level, including the higher echelons of Government, to act now.” She also stressed that ending violence is an overarching development goal.
Presenting the final Consultation Statement, Lina Laigo, Executive Director, Council for the Welfare of Children in the Philippines, concluded that “the cycle of violence can only be broken by creating a culture of peace and harmony; by improving cooperation among children, adults, communities, civil society, governments and international agencies; and by recognizing that violence against children and in society as a whole, is not inevitable but rather an injustice that can be ended by recognizing that peace is a human right. This responsibility belongs to everyone.”
After careful deliberation based on experiences, practical examples and existing strategies, the seven working groups developed key recommendations on how to combat and prevent violence in the specific settings where it occurs. The delegates also agreed on common approaches to combating violence against children, including:
Raise awareness and strengthen capacity
Parents and families need help to better understand issues of violence against children and to develop non-violent parenting skills. More must be done to educate parents and the public at large by increasing awareness and understanding of child rights.
Review and develop appropriate legislation, policy and guidelines
Although all countries in the region have some legislative mechanisms in place for the protection of children against violence and abuse, the delegates agreed that often enforcement of child protection legislation tends to be hampered by factors such as the lack of clear definitions on the types of violence and maltreatment specified in relevant laws, lack of implementation guidelines and resources for enforcement. The delegates called for better laws, policies and guidelines to be put in place to prevent and punish acts of violence against children, and also an effort to harmonize those laws and guidelines regionally.
Improve programmes, services and standards
With countless children unable to benefit from preventative and protective services, the delegates urged the development of better programmes, services and standards to manage cases of abuse and violence.
More effective monitoring and evaluation
The delegates agreed that there is a lack of comprehensive and systematic data collection, reporting and monitoring systems. Given the sensitivities of violence against children at the individual, family, community and state levels, there is limited information and quantitative data. While studies and research have been undertaken to address many aspects, typically they are limited in scope, either by geographical or population coverage.
Making children active partners in all efforts to combat violence
Child participation is crucial to the success of putting in effective mechanisms to combat violence. Children need to be included in researching, decision-making, implementation and evaluation processes. The participation needs to be done at all levels: community, national, regional and international.
Detailed recommendations from each of the working group sessions of the consultation also were developed and include:
As anecdotal evidence suggests that violence against children in the home and family is a severe problem in the East Asia and the Pacific and corporal punishment in the home is practised in all countries, delegates urged a ban on corporal punishment. The delegates called for an end to early marriage, which often forces girls into a life of violence and abuse. They also recommended greater efforts to educate parents to better understand and respect children’s rights.
Although data and information on violence in schools is scarce and studies specifically related to violence against children in school have only been conducted in a few countries, anecdotal evidence indicates the problem is widespread. The working group on violence against children in schools called for a ban on corporal punishment and also recommended better pre- and in-service training courses for headmasters, school administrators and teachers. The working group recommended that better services such as peer counselling and support be offered to victims of school violence and urged the establishment of child-friendly learning environments, better child rights education and a more active effort to promote violence-free schools.
Many street children are driven out of their homes as a consequence of abuse and neglect – a situation reiterated in many studies on street children in this region as well as elsewhere. Once on the streets they continue to be at even greater risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The working group on violence against children in street and community called for an urgent end to impunity against those who perpetrate abuse of street children’s rights with better services to address their needs. They also called for stronger public awareness against misconceptions and discrimination against children on the street and marginalized children.
With child labour prevalent in many countries of the region, the working group on violence against children in work situations stressed the need for greater clarity on the meaning and characteristics of “violence in the workplace, especially in the informal sector”. They recommended the development of concrete protection procedures and more regulation of workplaces through the training of officials to ensure better law enforcement and monitoring of abuses.
To address the shortcomings in many of the national juvenile justice systems in the region that increase the vulnerability children to violence and abuse, the working group on children in conflict with the law recommended that more focus on restorative justice where children should only be detained as the last resort, and for the shortest time possible, rather than rely on punitive and retributive justice. They recommended comprehensive juvenile justice law based on international law, especially in countries like Cambodia, Fiji, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Philippines and Timor-Leste, where children often are incarcerated with adults.
A ban on corporal punishment was the key recommendation on combating and preventing violence against children in institutions. The working group called for better criteria for the placement and care of children in institutions and for alternative care. They also recommended better training for caregivers, providers and managers to understand child rights and for governments to put in place better guidelines for registering, licensing, accrediting and monitoring all state and private institutions.
With cyber violence against children in the region growing, including child pornography, online grooming for sexual abuse, stalking, bullying and exposure to harmful content, the working group on violence against children in cyberspace recommended that each country adopt a National Plan of Action to protect children from cyber crimes and urged that policies and enforcement reach all levels of the community. The working group urged provisions for quality care for children harmed by cyber crimes, special child-cyber crime response units and national reporting hotlines. The media and information technology industry should be required, either by regulation or Codes of Conduct, to actively protect children by funding education campaigns and reporting hotlines and by regulating industry members, such as Internet cafes. Regionally, the working group recommended that all laws, regulations and standards be harmonized, cooperation among law enforcement agencies and hotline services and the sharing of research and good practice models.
Speaking on behalf of the NGO group, Dominique Pierre Plateau, Save the Children Sweden Regional Advisor on Prevention of Child Abuse and Exploitation, highlighted “the spirit of collaboration and joint commitment shared by NGOS, governments, young people and UN agencies in order to address the problem together.” Both local and international NGOs, including those in the steering committee that organized the Regional Consultation, were particularly active in facilitating the meaningful participation of 26 children from 12 countries. Children’s participation must be central to any action against violence toward children,” Mr. Plateau added. “The consultation really benefited from the young people’s inputs. Their contributions were invaluable.”
“In seeking to make progress toward achieving this goal, we will need to involve not only governments and their development partners but all members of society, including civil society and the private sector,” noted Pracha Maleenond, Minister of Social Development and Human Security Ministry of Social Development and Human Security from the Royal Government of Thailand, as he officially closed the consultation.
The child delegates at the consultation threw down a challenge to all governments to take immediate action to protect children’s rights. Ms. Guo Congcong from China said full participation by children in combating and preventing violence against them posed a huge challenge to traditions and customs in the region. “Many children in East Asia and the Pacific region are regarded as adults’ possessions. From today on, we are determined to change this attitude and work together with adults on violence against children.”
With so many children around the world suffering poverty, neglect, discrimination and severe violence, said Guo Congcong, children should not keep silent any more and should “bravely say ‘No!’ to violence against children”.