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UN experts call for better data collection and research on violence against children (11 March 2011)

GENEVA, 11 March 2011 - At a special event held during the current meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva today, UN experts called for better data and research on violence against children in order to strengthen government action for prevention and response to violence, including legislative reform to prohibit it in all its forms.

Organized by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, UNICEF and OHCHR, the interactive panel discussion on the theme of promoting better data and research to inform child sensitive and effective laws, policies and action to combat violence against children highlighted new evidence about children's exposure to physical punishment and psychological aggression. 

Panelists included senior representatives of ILO, WHO, UNICEF and the international NGO Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, as well as representatives of the joint organizers of the special event.

“Widely perceived as a social taboo, violence against children is seldom reported, and children often feel frightened to speak up and seek support. Official statistics do not capture the true scale and extent of this phenomenon,” said Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative on Violence against Children. “Without good data, national planning is compromised, effective policy-making and resource mobilization are hampered, and targeted interventions are limited in their ability to prevent and combat violence against children.”

The event highlighted new evidence about children's exposure to violence in low- and middle-income countries. The findings of a new UNICEF report on Child Disciplinary Practices at Home reveal that three of four children surveyed experience some form of violent discipline, about half experience some form of physical punishment and three in four experience psychological aggression.

“Most violence that is inflicted upon children is committed in the home – and thus tends to be hidden,” said Theresa Kilbane, UNICEF, Senior Advisor Child Protection.  “This report seeks to bring the extent of violent disciplinary practices out of the shadows to promote alternative, non-violent, forms of discipline and participatory forms of child-rearing.”

Existing studies suggest that exposing a child to violent discipline has harmful consequences for the victim as well as the society in which he or she lives. They show that even mild forms of physical discipline are harmful to children, hindering their cognitive capacity and increasing the proclivity for future violent acts. Violent psychological discipline – including ridicule, threats and intimidation – has also been shown to have a range of negative behavioural impacts in childhood and beyond.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child leaves no room for justification of violent or degrading forms of discipline. An important preliminary finding of the report is that a discrepancy exists between attitudes and behaviours. Although physical punishment is widespread, in most countries the majority of primary caregivers do not think there is a need for it. On average only one in four caregivers believes that physical punishment is needed to properly bring up a child.

The report is an important step towards providing evidence, but there remains a need to strengthen data collection and research on violence against children to inform advocacy, national planning, legislation and policy making, including interventions challenging the social acceptance of violence against children. “A comprehensive, well-coordinated and resourced national strategy to address violence against children in all its forms needs to be implemented in all countries and grounded on sound data and analysis,” said Ms. Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.

The report can be downloaded from: http://www.childinfo.org/discipline.html

RELEVANT LOCAL INFORMATION: This report includes data for 33 countries including data from this country.  It highlights that children in this country experience severe physical punishment (16 per cent) at a much higher rate compared to other countries from the region included in the survey (Albania 9 per cent, Serbia 8 per cent, Montenegro 6 per cent, and Bosnia and Herzegovina 3 per cent).  Some 61 per cent of children in this country experience psychological aggression at home compared to 64 per cent in Serbia, 56 per cent in Montenegro, 28 per cent in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 12 per cent in Albania.

The report also highlights that there are greater disparities in the country compared to other countries in the region.  For example:

Rural children (78%) are more likely than urban children (68%) to be subject to violent discipline (10% point difference between urban and rural).  Compared with other countries in the region, reported differences in the use of violent discipline by place of residence was somewhat greater.  In Albania the ratio is 54 rural/48 urban (6% point difference), in Serbia 77 rural/73 urban (4% point difference), while in Montenegro it is 64 rural/63 urban and in Bosnia and Herzegovina 38 rural/37 urban (only a 1% point difference between urban and rural).

Children from poor households (78%) compared to children from richer families (61%) are more likely to be subject to violent discipline (17% point difference).  Compared to other countries in the region, the reported difference in the use of violent discipline by economic status was significantly greater in this country (17 percentage point difference between the richest forty percent and the poorest sixty per cent).  The ratio in Albania is 56 poorest/44 richest (12% point difference between the richest forty percent and the poorest sixty per cent); in Serbia 79 poorest/66 richest and in Bosnia and Herzegovina 42 poorest/28 richest (9% point difference); while in Montenegro 65 poorest/61 richest (only a 4% percentage point difference).

The statistics used in this report were based on information gathered as part of a broader cross-sectoral study conducted in 2005.  It defines violent discipline as any form of physical punishment (slapping, hitting or shaking children as well as more severe physical punishment such as hitting with a hard object such as belt, stick or hairbrush) and  psychological aggression  (yelling at a child, calling them dumb, lazy or other insulting names when they have done something wrong).

About the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children

The SRSG on Violence against Children is a global independent advocate in favour of the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against children, mobilizing action and political support to achieve progress the world over. The mandate of the Special Representative is anchored in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights instruments and framed by the UN Study on Violence against Children. The SRSG identified research and the collection of data on violence against children as a key priority for her mandate.

For further information, please contact:
Suzie Pappas, Communications Officer, UNICEF Skopje (02) 3231-150, spappas@unicef.org.
Rebecca Fordham, UNICEF Media, New York, Tel + 1 212 326-7162, E-mail: rfordham@unicef.org
Miguel Caldeira, Office of the UN Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, New York, Tel + 1 917 265-4598, E-mail: mcaldeira@unicef.org

 

 
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