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17 November 2015: New figures show epidemic of violence against children across Africa

Stars join children’s organisations to launch campaign

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JOHANNESBURG/NAIROBI, 17 November 2015 – Africa’s largest children’s organisations today launch Action on Violence Against Children (AVAC), a campaign to build public awareness, and galvanise political will and resources around the staggering incidence and impact of abuse and violence against children.

New data from across Eastern and Southern Africa tells a harrowing story of the region’s youngest citizens being victims of abuse. For example, fresh statistics from Zambia reveal that one in three children suffer physical violence such as beatings; while one in five girls is a victim of sexual abuse.

The alarming new statistics from the Zambia Health and Wellbeing survey released today echo emerging evidence from across Eastern and Southern Africa that children are suffering widespread violence and abuse. For instance, two in five girls under 18 suffering sexual abuse and more than seven in 10 children report severe beatings at home or school.

The impacts of violence are far reaching. Violence can scar a child for a lifetime. Often it alters and damages a child’s physical, mental and emotional development. Research also shows that violence against children contributes to significant economic losses, which can be as high as 2-8% of GDP. At the same time it erodes the value of investments in child survival, development, education, and protection.

Meanwhile, data from the African Child Policy Forum shows that that 60 per cent of children in Zambia and Uganda, and around half of children in Ethiopia, experience physical punishment from family members, while recent UNICEF supported Violence Against Children Studies have revealed that:

  • In Malawi, data from this year shows that two out of every three Malawians experience violence in childhood; one in every five girls were sexually abused before they celebrated their 18th birthday; and nearly two out of every three boys suffered physical violence;
  • In Tanzania, one in three girls and one in seven boys experiences sexual violence before the age of 18, while three out of four boys and girls experience being punched, whipped or kicked during their childhood;
  • In Kenya: three out four children experienced some form of sexual, physical or emotional violence.

“We now have data on the types of violence on children and where this violence takes place… and it is shocking” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala. “But with partners we also know what works to curb violence: that is, behavior change and political will to invest in policy, systems and services. This campaign is about amplifying our voices on what works.”

The Action on Violence Against Children (AVAC) campaign provides a unified voice on Violence Against children (VAC) that transcends national boundaries in Eastern and Southern Africa. It brings together leading organisations in the arena of children, such as Africa Child Policy Forum, The Africa Experts Committee on the Rights and the Welfare of the Child, Child Helpline International, Plan International, Save the Children, Sonke Gender Justice, with UNICEF convening the multi-stakeholder campaign.

In communities across Africa, measures such as child protection committees, referral hotlines, village workers, and centres where children can receive a combination of counseling, victim friendly police and if need be medical services, have proven to work. And yet all require funding and support so as to be scaled up.

Roland Angerer, Plan International’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said effective national child protection systems and community-based mechanisms are vital to prevent and respond violence against children, adding that reviewing cultural practice at community levels was important. “It is time to review and change cultural practices to make them work in the best interest of all girls and boys”, says Angerer.

The campaign also aims to highlight and challenge age-old social norms and cyclical patterns that perpetuate violence against children. Patrick Godana, from Sonke Gender Justice emphasises: “A key strategy to prevent violence among adults is to reduce children’s exposure to violence, as this interrupts the cycle of violence.”  

Additional evidence, from Child Helpline International (CHI), shows that abuse and violence are the main reasons why children contact child helplines in Africa. In 2014, of more than one million children and youth in Africa, who reached out to Childline for help, 35% were on physical abuse (35%), followed by neglect (24%), sexual abuse (19%) and emotional abuse (14%).

Noting this, and the array of other shocking statistics now available on the violence children are enduring, Action on Violence Against Children will create a regional rallying cry as it seeks to keep governments accountable to commitments both to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goal 16.2. (SDGs) particularly “to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against children”.



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