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UN experts call for closer examination of the impact of disciplinary practices of children

NEW YORK, 15 October 2010 - At a special event held at the United Nations Headquarters today, UN experts called for better data and research on violence against children in order to strengthen government action for prevention and response to violence and to support legal prohibitions.

Organised by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, UNICEF and OHCHR, and supported by the Government of Sweden, the interactive panel discussion on the theme of promoting better data and research to inform child sensitive and effective laws, policies and action highlighted new evidence about children's exposure to physical punishment and psychological aggression. 

Panelists included senior representatives of the Governments of Brazil and Sweden, an NGO partner, Plan International, as well as representatives of the joint organizers of the special event.

“Too often violence against children remains hidden behind a pervasive culture of silence,” said Marta Santos-Pais, Special Representative on Violence Against Children. “Without good data, national planning is compromised, effective policy-making and resource mobilization are hampered, and targeted interventions are limited in their ability to prevent and combat violence against children”.

The event highlighted new evidence about children's exposure to violence in low- and middle-income countries. The preliminary findings of a new UNICEF report on Child Disciplinary Practices at Home reveal that three in four of all children surveyed experience some form of violent discipline, about half experience some form of physical punishment and three in four experience psychological aggression.

“Most violence that is inflicted upon children is committed in the home – and thus tends to be hidden,” said Susan Bissell, UNICEF, Chief of Child Protection.  “This report seeks to bring the extent of violent disciplinary practices out of the shadows to promote positive disciplinary practices and participatory forms of child-rearing.”

Existing studies suggest that exposing a child to violent discipline has harmful consequences for the victim as well as the society in which he or she lives. They show that even mild forms of physical discipline are harmful to children, hindering their cognitive capacity and increasing the proclivity for future violent acts. Violent psychological discipline – including ridicule, threats and intimidation – has also been shown to have a range of negative behavioural impacts in childhood and beyond.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child leaves no room for justification of violent or degrading forms of discipline, yet the preliminary findings of the report show a discrepancy exists between attitudes and behaviours. Although physical punishment is widespread, in most countries the majority of primary caregivers do not think there is a need for it. On average only one in four caregivers believe that physical punishment is needed to properly bring up a child.

The report is an important step towards providing evidence, but there remains a need to strengthen data collection and research on violence against children to inform advocacy, national planning, legislation and policy making, including interventions challenging the social acceptance of violence against children.

“A comprehensive, well coordinated and resourced national strategy to address violence against children in all its forms needs to be implemented in all countries and grounded on sound data and analysis,” said Ms. Santos-Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

For further information, please contact:
Rebecca Fordham, UNICEF Media, New York,
Tel + 1 212 326-7162,

Joost Kooijmans, Special Assistant to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence Against Children,
Tel + 1 917 265 4605, 




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