Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Sexual violence against children

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1810/Shehzad Noorani
Layla, 14, adjusts a mosquito net over her bed, in a room at the bar in Tarime District, Mara Region. Many bars in the area function as brothels.

Sexual violence against children is a gross violation of children’s rights. Yet it is a global reality across all countries and social groups. It takes the form of sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual exploitation in prostitution or pornography. It can happen in homes, institutions, schools, workplaces, in travel and tourism facilities, within communities - both in development and emergency contexts (see gender based violence in emergency situations). Increasingly, the internet and mobile phones also put children at risk of sexual violence as some adults look to the internet to pursue sexual relationships with children. There is also an increase in the number and circulation of images of child abuse. Children themselves also send each other sexualized messages or images on their mobile phones, so called ‘sexting’, which puts them at risk for other abuse.

In 2002, WHO estimated that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 years experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence involving physical contact (United Nations study on violence against children). Millions more are likely exploited in prostitution or pornography each year, most of the times lured or forced into these situations through false promises and limited knowledge about the risks. Yet the true magnitude of sexual violence is hidden because of its sensitive and illegal nature. Most children and families do not report cases of abuse and exploitation because of stigma, fear, and lack of trust in the authorities. Social tolerance and lack of awareness also contribute to under-reporting.

Evidence shows that sexual violence can have serious short- and long-term physical, psychological and social consequences not only for girls or boys, but also for their families and communities. This includes increased risks for illness, unwanted pregnancy, psychological distress, stigma, discrimination and difficulties at school.

As part of UNICEF’s commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Rio de Janeiro Declaration and Call for Action to Prevent and Stop Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, UNICEF works to prevent and respond to sexual violence by engaging different government sectors - justice, social welfare, education and health - as well as legislators, civil society, community leaders, religious groups, the private sector, media, families and children themselves. UNICEF supports governments in strengthening child protection systems at national and local levels– including laws, policies, regulations and the provision of comprehensive services to child victims. UNICEF also works with communities and the general public to raise awareness about the problem and address attitudes, norms and practices that are harmful to children.

Visit the resources page for more information.



World Congress III

World Congress III against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents 

The Rio de Janeiro Declaration and Call for Action to Prevent and Stop Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents

Photo Essay: 'Silence is acceptance'

28 November 2008: UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on the outcome of the Third World Congress on the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
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UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports on the goals and concerns of the Third World Congress being held in Rio De Janiero, Brazil.
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Press release: World gathers in Brazil to reinvigorate fight against sexual exploitation of children

Watch an excerpt from the film ‘Very Young Girls’ about the women reached by Girls Education and Mentoring Services in New York
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UNICEF’s Guy Degen relates the story of Rumilya, an 18-year-old girl from Kyrgyzstan who was trafficked and sexually exploited.
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UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on the child pornography trade in the Philippines.
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October 2008: UNICEF correspondent David Koch reports on a safe house in Liberia for young victims of sexual violence.
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