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Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Clinton Global Initiative concludes with commitment to act on violence against girls

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1432/Markisz
Leaders and partners gather at the closing plenary of the Clinton Global Initiative to announce a new commitment addressing the issue of sexual violence against girls.

By Amy Bennett

NEW YORK, USA, 25 September 2009 – Former US President Bill Clinton concluded the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) – four days of dialogue and collaboration that wrapped up today in New York – by announcing further commitments to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.

High on the list was a new approach to the issue of sexual violence against girls.

To address the rights violations and health impacts resulting from sexual violence, CGI convened discussions among the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), private-sector supporters and five United Nations agencies: UNICEF, UNAIDS, the UN Population Fund, the UN Development Fund for Women and the World Health Organization.

“All these organizations are joining together to fight sexual violence against girls, with a particular focus on countries who are fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS,” President Clinton said. “They will gather new data in seven countries across Asia and Africa, and develop communications strategies to reach millions more through awareness and advocacy campaigns,” he added.

‘A gross violation of their rights’
“Sexual violence against children is a gross violation of their rights, a moral and ethical outrage and an assault on the world’s conscience,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Sexual abuse can lead to lost childhoods, abandoned education, physical and emotional problems, the spread of HIV and an often irrevocable loss of dignity and self-esteem.”

Before the afternoon's CGI closing plenary session got under way, Veneman joined US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other leaders at a Ministerial breakfast meeting at UN headquarters. Co-hosted by the Governments of the Netherlands, the United States and Brazil, the meeting also dealt with the need to combat violence against girls.

The breakfast meeting provided an opportunity to focus high-level attention on this issue; to highlight the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children; and to renew commitments to implementing the recommendations of the Secretary General’s Study on Violence Against Children.

A history of sexual violence
Research supports the urgent call to action made by participants in today’s meetings on sexual violence.

In 2007, for example, the CDC, UNICEF and local partner organizations implemented a national survey on violence against girls and young women in Swaziland, the country with the world’s highest HIV prevalence among adults.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1428/Markisz
At a Ministerial breakfast meeting at UN headquarters, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to attendees about combating violence against girls.

Approximately one-third of the girls in the survey reported a history of sexual violence. More than 40 per cent of those who experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes had endured two or more attacks before they turned 18.

The survey led to a series of policy and legislative interventions in Swaziland, including establishment of the nation’s first Sexual Offenses Unit for crimes against children. There also has been a push to finalize legislation against domestic violence and sexual offenses, which is due for presentation to Parliament by the end of October.

Risk of HIV infection

Research demonstrates, as well, that sexual violence against girls is both a direct and an indirect driver of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, as the risk of HIV infection is increased following forced sex, especially among children.

“Our foundation has an AIDS programme, and two of the most powerful spokespeople we have ever had were two young teenage women, one in Zambia and one in Lesotho,” said President Clinton. “They got infected because they were raped coming home from school.”

Referring to girls at risk of sexual violence around the world, he added: “We can do all this stuff – education, schools – but if they're not safe, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans.”



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