Violent discipline, sexual abuse and bullying stalk millions of children worldwide

Violence against children – some as young as one year old – is pervasive, new report with disturbing data reveals

01 November 2017
An 18-year-old girl stands in silhouette by a window at the Pravo centre for abused and trafficked children in Almaty city, Kazakhstan.

GENEVA, 1 November 2017 – Staggering numbers of children – some as young as 12 months old – are experiencing violence, often by those entrusted to take care of them, UNICEF said in a new report released today.

A Familiar Face: Violence in the lives of children and adolescents uses the latest data to show that children experience violence across all stages of childhood and in every region of the world.

“It is unacceptable that children of all ages in every region of the world face violence in the places where they should be safe – their homes, schools and communities. The devastation caused by violence can last a child’s entire life and is often passed down from one generation to the next,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Afshan Khan. “These findings must be a wakeup call to protect every child from violence.”         

Key findings from the report include;

Violence against young children in their homes:

  • Three-quarters of the world’s 2- to 4-year-old children – around 300 million – experience psychological aggression and/or physical punishment by their caregivers at home;
  • Around 6 in 10 one year olds in 30 countries with available data are subjected to violent discipline on a regular basis. Nearly a quarter of one-year-olds are physically shaken as punishment and nearly 1 in 10 are hit or slapped on the face, head or ears.
  • Worldwide, 1 in 4 children under age five – 176 million – are living with a mother who is a victim of intimate partner violence.

Sexual violence against girls and boys:

  • Worldwide, around 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts in their lifetime.
  • Only 1 per cent of adolescent girls who had experienced sexual violence said they reached out for professional help.
  • In the 28 countries with data, 90 per cent of adolescent girls who had experienced forced sex, on average, said the perpetrator of the first incident was known to them. Data from six countries reveals friends, classmates and partners were among the most frequently cited perpetrators of sexual violence against adolescent boys.

Violence in schools:

  • Half the population of school-age children – 732 million – live in countries where corporal punishment at school is not fully prohibited. 
  • About 3 in 10 (17 million) young adolescents in 39 countries in Europe and North America admit to bullying others in school. 
  • Worldwide, close to 130 million, or slightly more than 1 in 3, students between the ages of 13 and 15 experience bullying.

The release of the global report today coincides with a sub-regional forum on strengthening data collection on violence against children for stronger policy-advocacy in six countries and a territory in the Western Balkans and Turkey. The two-day event in Belgrade, Serbia is part of the European Union, UNICEF and European Disability Forum programme “Protecting Children from Violence and Promoting Social Inclusion of Children with Disabilities,” which aims to strengthen national child protection systems and ensure social inclusion of children with disabilities.

UNICEF prioritises efforts to end violence across all its work, including supporting government efforts to improve services for children affected by violence, developing policies and legislation that protect children, and helping communities, parents and children to prevent violence through practical programmes like parenting courses and actions against domestic violence.

To end violence against children, UNICEF is calling for governments to take urgent action and support the INSPIRE guidance which has been agreed and promoted by WHO, UNICEF and the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, including:

  • Adopting well-coordinated national action plans to end violence against children – incorporating education, social welfare, justice and health systems, as well as communities and children themselves.
  • Changing behaviours of adults and addressing factors that contribute to violence against children, including economic and social inequities, social and cultural norms that condone violence, inadequate policies and legislation, insufficient services for victims, and limited investments in effective systems to prevent and respond to violence.
  • Focussing national policies on minimizing violent behaviour, reducing inequalities, and limiting access to firearms and other weapons. 
  • Building social service systems and training social workers to provide referrals, counselling and therapeutic services for children who have experienced violence. 
  • Educating children, parents, teachers, and community members to recognise violence in all its many forms and empowering them to speak out and report violence safely. 
  • Collecting better disaggregated data on violence against children and tracking progress through robust monitoring and evaluation.

Media contacts

Melanie Sharpe
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Regional office
Tel: + 41 (0) 79 834 74 01
Chulho Hyun
UNICEF Regional Office Europe and Central Asia
Tel: +41 22 909 52 86

Additional resources

An 18-year-old girl stands in silhouette by a window at the Pravo centre for abused and trafficked children in Almaty city, Kazakhstan.

UNICEF resources for media


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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