Violence against children threatens not only children’s survival and health but also their emotional well-being and future prospects. Violence against children is widespread and pervasive and remains a harsh reality for millions of children in India. Over half of the world’s children have experienced severe violence and 64 per cent of these are in South Asia.
All children have the right to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse. Yet, millions of children worldwide from all socio-economic backgrounds, across all ages, religions and cultures suffer violence, exploitation and abuse every day. Violence can be physical, sexual, and emotional and also manifest itself as neglect. I can also be interpersonal and is also a result of structures that allow or promote violent behaviour.
Evidence shows that violence, exploitation and abuse are often practiced by someone known to the child, including parents, other family members, caretakers, teachers, employers, law enforcement authorities, state and non-state actors and other children.
Violence, exploitation and abuse occur in the homes, families, schools, care and justice systems, workplaces and communities across all contexts, including as a result of conflict and natural disasters. Many children are exposed to various forms of violence, exploitation and abuse, including sexual abuse and exploitation, armed violence, trafficking, child labour, gender-based violence, bullying (see UNICEF, Too often in silence, 2010), gang violence, female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage, physically and emotionally violent child discipline, and other harmful practices. 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.
Data on the number of children experiencing violence may underestimate the extent of the problem because only a small proportion of acts of violence, exploitation and abuse are reported and investigated, and few perpetrators are held accountable.
There is significant evidence that violence, exploitation and abuse can affect the child’s physical and mental health in the short and longer term, impairing their ability to learn and socialize, and impacting their transition to adulthood with adverse consequences later in life.
Governments, policymakers and child-focused organizations like UNICEF have a responsibility to create safe environments for children and protect survivors of violence. Children should grow up in a safe and protective environment governments, communities, local authorities and non-governmental organizations, including faith-based and community-based organizations, can help ensure this.
Many good experiences in India and globally demonstrate the best approach to ending violence is prevention. Promotion of personal safety among children, child protection policies in schools and increased awareness of parents are essential to prevent sexual abuse of children. Younger children tend to be more vulnerable and specific approaches aimed at strengthen the protective role of families and education environments.
Understanding the underlying causes and addressing this interconnectedness is key to ending violence against children. Child protection systems seek to address the full spectrum of risk factors in the lives of all children and their families. Along with partners, including governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society actors and the private sector, UNICEF promotes the strengthening of all components of child protection systems - human resources, finances, laws, standards, governance, monitoring and services.
UNICEF and its partners support the mapping and assessment of child protection systems. This work helps build consensus among government and civil society on the goals and components of such systems, their strengths, weaknesses and priorities upon which to act. This then translates into improved laws, policies, regulations, standards and services protecting all children. It also leads to the strengthening of these systems with the financial and human resources necessary to deliver results for children.
Over the past decade, UNICEF has also supported the informed understanding of social norms that result in violence, exploitation and abuse and has worked to promote change across the Country. To promote positive norms to bring about an end to harmful practices, UNICEF engages in advocacy and awareness raising and supports discussions, education programmes and communication for development strategies at community, district, state and national levels. When combined with effective legislation, policies, regulations and services, a process that focuses on community values and human rights leads to positive and lasting change.
This focus on the prevention and response to violence, exploitation and abuse cuts across the life cycle of the child.
From a human rights, moral, and economic perspective, it is critical to invest in child protection systems to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children.
UNICEF works with government and civil society actors to strengthen the capacity of the workforce to better protect children from violence. This includes working with universities to begin or improve degree programmes in social service related areas, and to integrate child protection specific modules into existing courses such as with the police and judiciary. UNICEF also works with those already working to ensure the continued access to new tools, and support that the resources to implement them are available.
Work with communities and families to recognise violence and to support other practices, such as positive discipline are also part of the UNICEF programme. With communities promoting an atmosphere to stand up to violence and to report it are important first steps. The best way to address violence is to prevent it from happening in the first place.