Violence against Children in South Asia
Violence against Children in South Asia
Violence against girls and boys is a violation of their rights. Article 19 of the CRC calls for legislative, administrative, social and educational actions to protect children from all forms of violence and abuse. Several other instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the two first Optional Protocols to the CRC, and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) single out particular types of violence for action.
Preventing, mitigating of and responding to violence against children in South Asia is a matter of urgency. The 2006 UN Study on Violence against Children estimated that in South Asia every year between 41 and 88 million children witness violence at home – the highest regional total in the world. The exposure of children to violence in their homes on a frequent basis, usually through fights between parents or between a parent and her/his partner, can severely affect a child’s well-being, personal development and social interaction in childhood and adulthood.
Forms of Violence
The harmful consequences of child marriage include separation from family and friends, decreased opportunities for education, lack of freedom to interact with peers and participate in community activities. Child marriage can also result in bonded labour, commercial sexual exploitation and violence against child brides. Because they can often not abstain from sex or insist on condom use, child brides are frequently exposed to such serious health risks as premature pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
In South Asia, there are more child marriages than in any other region of the world: half (32, 6 million) of the 64 million young Source: UNICEF ROSA CP 2012, with SWOC 2012 data
Overall, in the region, 46 per cent of women 20-24 years old were first married or in union before they reached the age of 18 and 18 per cent of women 20-24 years old were first married or in union before they even reached the age of 15.
Significant differences in the child marriage rate exist among countries within South Asia, according to available data from national surveys: child marriage prevalence – measured as the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were first married or in union before they were 18 year old – varies from 4 per cent in Maldives to 66 per cent in Bangladesh. The country rates in ascending order are: Sri Lanka (12 per cent); Pakistan (24 per cent); Bhutan (26 per cent); Afghanistan (39 per cent); India (47 per cent); Nepal (51 per cent) and Bangladesh (66 per cent).
Partner violence against adolescent girls: Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence against women in developing countries, according to the United Nations Study on Violence against Children. It also occurs frequently in adolescents’ relationships: within marriage, adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to intimate partner violence, including sexual violence.
In Bangladesh, 47 per cent of ever-married adolescent girls (married between 15 and 19 years old) reported that they have experienced emotional, physical and/or sexual violence committed by their current or most recent husband or partner. Many socio-economic and cultural factors contribute to the incidence of partner and domestic violence. Social norms and societal attitudes that convey acceptance or justification of domestic violence make girls and women more vulnerable to become victims. National surveys show that in South Asia 52 per cent of women and 49 per cent of men aged 15-49 years old consider a husband to be justified in hitting or beating his wife for at least one of the following reasons: if the wife burns the food, argues with the husband, goes out without telling him, neglects the children or refuses sexual relations. The justification rate among men in South Asia is the highest in the world, while the rate among women is higher than in East Asia and the Pacific (36 per cent), but lower compared to the rates found in Eastern and Southern Africa (59 per cent) and West and Central Africa (57 per cent).
The percentage of women and men 15-49 years old who consider a husband to be justified in hitting or beating his wife for at least one of the specified reasons varies across countries in the region. The available country rates of male justification in ascending order are: Maldives (14 per cent), Nepal (22 per cent), Bangladesh (36 per cent) and India (51 per cent). The available country rates of female justification in ascending order are: Nepal (23 per cent), Maldives (31 per cent), Bangladesh (36 per cent), Sri Lanka (53 per cent) and India (54 per cent).
Violence in work settings and the worst forms of child labour: Little data is available on violence against children in work settings, especially on child workers in the informal sector. Working children are vulnerable to physical, sexual and psychological violence by employers, co-workers, customers, police, criminal gangs and, in the case of sexual exploitation, pimps. Across the region, violence — physical, sexual and psychological — affects many children who are working, both legally and illegally.
Across South Asia 12 per cent of children aged 5-14 are engaged in child labour. This amounts to a total of 44 million children, which is more than 25 per cent of all children engaged in child labour worldwide (150 million). Of these children, 29 million live in India.
Large disparities exist among and across countries. The country with the highest indicators for child labour – among countries for which data exist – is Nepal, where 34 per cent of children aged 5-14 work. The lowest indicators are found in Sri Lanka, where the prevalence is 8 per cent. In India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan child labour rates are respectively 12, 13, 13 and 19 per cent.
Within countries themselves, as is also the case for child marriage and other forms of violence, there are differences based on gender, wealth quintiles and location. Within India for instance there are vast differences between States, ranging from 32 per cent in Gujarat to 3 per cent in Goa and Kerala, indicating that the regional targeting of policies aimed at eliminating child labour is essential.
Corporal punishment is any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting (‘smacking’, ‘slapping’, ‘spanking’) children, with the hand or with an implement – a whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices). In the view of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, corporal punishment is invariably degrading. In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment that are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the CRC. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child.
Corporal punishment is invariably degrading. It affects children’s physical and psychological health and has negative impact on students’ retention and learning achievements. Studies show that corporal punishment is a direct and significant reason for children dropping out of school.
Corporal punishment is a common phenomenon in the daily life of South Asian children – at home, in care and justice settings, in schools, in places of work, in their communities. It remains socially accepted throughout the region, in its various forms and not as yet generally perceived as abusive. A recent report by SAIEVAC, in collaboration with the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children and Save the Children Sweden estimated in 2011, based on UNICEF child population figures, that 95 per cent of the world’s total child population live in countries where they are not legally protected from all forms of corporal punishment by parents: 29.3 per cent of these live in South Asia; 54.7 per cent of the global child population live in countries where they are not legally protected from corporal punishment in schools: 44.7 per cent of these live in South Asia; 55.7 per cent of children worldwide live in countries where they are not protected by law from corporal punishment in penal institutions: 50 per cent of these are in South Asia; 93.4 per cent of children worldwide live in countries where corporal punishment in all forms of alternative care is not prohibited, 29.8 per cent of which are in South Asia; 39.7 per cent of children across the world live in countries where for committing an offence under criminal, traditional and/or religious law they can lawfully be ordered to receive corporal punishment: 68 per cent of these are in South Asia.
Despite the progress made in other regions of the world in collecting and analyzing evidence on child disciplinary practices, data on corporal punishment in South Asia are still lacking. However, in Nepal the 2010 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey in the Mid-and Far-Western Regions of the country collected data on children experiencing violent discipline. It shows that overall, a very high proportion of children age 2-14 years (83 per cent) experience violent discipline, including both psychological aggression and physical punishment. Comparing the findings for girls and boys (81 and 85 per cent), a somewhat higher percentage of boys are victims of this type of violence.
Bullying, fighting and physical assaults: Children are also subject to violence by their peers, in the forms of bullying and of physical fights or attacks. A child is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other children. Bullying comprises the notions of “repetition, harm and unequal power”. It includes a range of actions including name calling, false accusations to make trouble to the victim with authority figures, damaging or stealing belongings, threats and intimidation including through mobile phones and the internet. Bullying is most commonly verbal, but physical and sexual violence also occur. Bullying is frequently associated with discrimination against students on the basis of gender, disability, race, ethnicity, religion or sect and caste. It is also a form of punishment being meted out by teachers to the students.
Bullying can lead to lifelong problems for children, affecting their emotional development, undermining their cognitive development and producing long-term mental distress. It causes low self-esteem, aggressiveness and mistrust in others and can lead to severe consequences including suicide.
Data on bullying in South Asia are scarce. However, evidence from Pakistan and Sri Lanka exists to show that adolescents are subject to bullying. In a World Health Organization (WHO) survey in Pakistan, 45 per cent of adolescent boy students and 35 per cent of adolescent girl students aged 13-15 reported having been bullied on one or more days during the past 30 days. A similar result was reported in the WHO survey in Sri Lanka, where 47 per cent of adolescent boy students and 29 per cent of adolescent girl students reported having been bullied during the past 30 days.
Bullying can lead to fighting. Fighting generally involves two or more people, where it is not easy to make distinctions between perpetrators and victims. Physical assault can occur as a separate phenomenon, as in the case of an attack by one person on another driven by inflamed feelings of anger or jealousy. It may also be driven by general feelings of rage, frustration or humiliation unprovoked by anything the victim may have done, as in the case of violent sexual assault and random shootings. In a survey conducted by WHO in Sri Lanka, 60 per cent of adolescent boy students and 34 per cent of adolescent girl students aged 13-15 years reported having been in a physical fight one or more times during the past 12 months. In the same country, 54 per cent of adolescent boy students and 42 per cent of adolescent girl students aged 13-15 years reported having been physically attacked one or more times during the past 12 months.
Many efforts are on-going in the region to strengthen national child protection systems. Bhutan, for instance, has recently made a discernible shift toward building a national child protection system: following the 2011 parliamentary approval of the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) with a costed operational plan, the government, supported by UNICEF, has mapped and assessed the child protection system which will support operationalization of the Act. Pakistan has also embarked on a national child protection system mapping and assessment exercise and in Bangladesh, a draft of the outcome of the same exercise was finalized in 2011. In India, the roll-out of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme is being implemented in all states (except Jammu and Kashmir).
Coordination: UNICEF is strongly engaged in efforts to enhance coordination. In many countries, ministries, such as in India, and high-level governmental mechanisms, such as in Sri Lanka, have been mandated to coordinate activities on children and promote synergies across sectors, strengthen data systems on children and advocate for higher visibility for marginalized children. In India, UNICEF led the formation of the child protection coalition which brings together 20 national and international NGOs and contributed to a number of significant fora and discussions, including on policy (Child Protection in the 12th Five Year Plan), legislation (Juvenile Justice, Child Labour) and programme intervention guidelines (review of adoption guidelines). In Afghanistan, UNICEF supported the set-up of the Child Protection Action Network (CPAN), a coalition of government, NGOs, communities and religious leaders working to provide access to services for children in need of protection.
Legal protection, laws and regulations: all eight countries in the region have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Seven countries have also ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Efforts are on-going to harmonize national legislation on child protection with the CRC. In 2011, the Government of Pakistan ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Bangladesh in the same year saw the approval of the National Policy on Children by the Council of Ministers. In Afghanistan, UNICEF is supporting the Human Rights Support Unit of the Ministry of Justice develop a rationale for a comprehensive Child Act while in Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Justice has amended several provisions of ‘The Children and Young Persons Ordinance’, in-line with international standards, in 2011.
Capacity development: UNICEF is supporting Governments initiative to build capacities of the social welfare and justice sectors in many countries. Most countries in South Asia have established specialist police units and courts for juveniles; Maldives and to some extent Afghanistan, have put in place culturally appropriate diversion and restorative justice programmes. They are also working to build a cadre of professionally skilled staff through social work education and accreditation. In Sri Lanka more than 200 social protection officers of the Social Care Units under the Ministry of Social Welfare and Child Development were trained during the same year, with UNICEF support, to implement Case Management Guidelines including social care planning, family assessment and reunification, case conferencing and family group conferencing. In Karnataka, India, a Gender Sensitive Police Training Programme has showed particular success. In 2011, in Nepal, Child Rights and Child Welfare Officers from 30 districts were trained on child rights, child protection issues and on the basics of case management and social work. In addition to this, with UNICEF’s support the capacities of Village-level Paralegal Committees, women’s federations and child clubs are being developed, in order to raise awareness of early intervention, reconciliation and mediation, and advocate against violence, exploitation and abuse in collaboration with young people and the media.
Supporting social change
Protecting children from violence in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters
Evidence-based child protection and systematic data collection on violence
Partnerships have been developed and strengthened in the last years between governments, children, civil society, and international organizations to strengthen joint work on violence against children. One of the biggest achievements with regard to partnership and regional cooperation on child protection in South Asia was the establishment as a result of the 2005 Regional Consultation on Violence against Children in South Asia, Islamabad, of the South Asia Forum for Ending Violence against Children (SAF), which in June 2010 evolved in the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC). SAIEVAC has a five year workplan (2010-2015) aimed at developing and strengthening national child protection systems in the region, to effectively protect girls and boys from all forms of violence in all settings. The workplan is a common regional strategic framework to coordinate and monitor progress annually. SAIEVAC also has a Governing Board which includes representatives from all governments in the region, children, the South Asia Coordinating Group on Action against Violence against Children (SACG) and civil society. SAIEVAC has national coordinators (government officials) in each South Asian country and a Regional Secretariat in Kathmandu. With the continued support of the SACG, chaired by UNICEF ROSA in 2011-2012 (co-chaired by Plan International), SAIEVAC has created an important forum for dialogue, collaboration and information exchange on child protection between governments, children, civil society, UN agencies and international NGOs. The initiative has also gained the support of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC): at the 17th SAARC Summit in November 2011, SAIEVAC was awarded Apex Body status within SAARC. Its proposal to the SAARC Development Fund was also recently approved, leveraging 2.6 million USD for the strengthening of both regional and country-level activities on child protection from violence in South Asia.
Efforts towards the strengthening of South-South cooperation have also been successfully made: a High-Level Meeting on Cooperation for Child Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region was held in Beijing, on 4-6 November 2010, with UNICEF support. The meeting resulted in a final declaration and a series of recommendations for the strengthening of South-South Cooperation for Child Rights, Child Protection and Child Welfare, and for achieving the MDGs with Equity.
The above initiatives show a consolidated effort of different stakeholders, including governments and children, to work together to find solutions to end violence against children and to coordinate and monitor progress annually. They have placed the protection of children higher on the South Asian political agenda and have demonstrated that positive change and progress are possible.
There is however an urgency to do more and do better.
The scale of violence affecting girls and boys in all South Asian countries and in all settings demands an immediate, comprehensive and coordinated action, within the framework of strengthening national child protection systems and supporting social change.
This should include strengthening the evidence base with better collection, analysis and use of disaggregated data and enhanced monitoring and evaluation of child protection programmes. Bottlenecks and barriers in achieving results should be identified, assessed, analyzed and addressed to guide necessary programmatic adjustments. Successful approaches should be documented, shared and scaled up in order to reduce inequities and better protect children.