Protecting children from violence

UNICEF works with partners to prevent and respond to violence against children. We aim to reduce violence at home, at school, in the community and online, and to break the silence on this hidden epidemic.

11-year-old Ajsa is photographed in front of a laptop, with her head in her hands.

The challenge

Violence threatens not only children’s survival and health, but also their emotional well-being and future prospects. 

Violence against children at home is commonplace across the region, with around half of all children in East and Central European and Central Asian countries experiencing violent discipline.

Surveys have found that 53 per cent of children aged 1-14 had experienced violent discipline at home in the previous month in Kazakhstan, rising to 57 per cent in Kyrgyzstan and 66 per cent among children in Roma settlements in Serbia (compared to a national average in Serbia of 43 per cent).

Child abandonment and institutionalization are also forms of violence, and children in institutions are thought to be particularly vulnerable. Research suggests that girls in care or detention are more likely than boys to become victims of sexual and physical abuse.

Violence is also found in schools. In Serbia, 69 per cent of primary school students and 74 per cent of secondary school students reported they had been exposed to at least one form of gender-based violence. There are also concerns about bullying, with almost 60 per cent of children aged 11 to 15 admitting that they had bullied others at school at least once in the previous two months.   

The risks of violence increase during emergencies that weaken the abilities of families and communities to protect children. Girls, in particular, face grave risks of gender-based violence during emergencies. 

Growing access to the Internet means new forms of violence against children.

As Internet access expands, violence against children is taking on new dimensions such as cyber-bullying and online sexual exploitation, with damaging and life-changing consequences. 

Adolescents who grow up with violence can see it is a normal part of life. Such beliefs reinforce some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence worldwide. Cultural practices, such as child marriage, also heighten the risks of violence against girls and young women. 

Family violence may also contribute to the region’s suicide rates, which are also among the highest worldwide, with very high suicide rates among young men in Kazakhstan, for example.

The solution

UNICEF’s determination to tackle violence against children is embedded in everything we do, recognizing that this is everybody’s business. We support measures to prevent and respond to violence against children across the region, breaking the silence on this hidden issue and transforming attitudes that allow it to persist.  

We help families and communities to prevent violence.

As well as building the skills of professionals, such as teachers and social workers who work with children to identify and address violence, we help families and communities prevent violence in the first place.

We prioritize the prevention of violence against children in their homes (including their abandonment) by supporting positive parenting and other measures to build parental skills. Our support for home-visitors, social workers and all other front-line workers who interact with families includes training on the identification and referral of suspected cases of violence against children. 

We also promote violence-free schools and the protection of children from violence in residential institutions or foster families. UNICEF also works to prevent child marriage, which often exposes child brides to domestic violence and abuse.  

We promote the expansion of services that provide safeguards against violence, such as social welfare and child-friendly justice, and work to ensure that child victims know where and how to get help. 

Examples of our work in practice include Our School without Violence (SwV) Programme, which aims to create safe schools for every child and protect children affected by violence. Evaluations in Kyrgyzstan and Serbia have confirmed that such programmes result in greater awareness among teachers, more openness about violence and a clearer understanding of gender stereotypes – important steps towards protecting children against violence at school.

We work to protect children from online sexual exploitation.

Through the #WeProtect Children Online global alliance, UNICEF works to protect children from online sexual exploitation in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia, while educating young people to become responsible digital citizens. 

In the Western Balkans and Turkey, the regional EU-UNICEF initiative on Protecting Children from Violence and Promoting Social Inclusion of Children with Disabilities, in cooperation with the European Disability Forum, is strengthening partnerships with civil society organizations (including those representing people with disabilities) to better protect the rights of the most vulnerable children in the Western Balkans and Turkey. 

We have also integrated the prevention of gender-based violence into our emergency programming, including our responses to: Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis; Turkey’s influx of Syrian refugees; and the displacement of communities in Ukraine.