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Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Armed violence reduction

© UNICEF/NYHQ2004-0152/Michael Kamber
Two boys watch an older youth from a local gang who is brandishing a gun while listening to his radio, on a street in the seaside slum of Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Armed violence is not confined to war; it occurs increasingly in non-conflict settings including in middle-income countries and it has a dramatic impact on children, their families, and their communities.  Children are affected by armed violence in different ways.  First, and most directly, they can be killed or injured.  However the effects are much broader.  For example the death or injury of a caregiver changes a child’s life considerably and may force them to take on responsibilities that interfere with their education. Armed violence results in forced displacement of families and severely affects household livelihood and income; it blocks access to basic services and to education and healthcare.  Moreover, children need to be protected not only from the violence itself but also from being coerced into engaging in it themselves. 

At least 740,000 people die directly or indirectly as a result of armed violence  every year. A relatively small proportion of these deaths – approximately one third – can be attributed to armed conflicts in war zones. Yet the vast majority of violent deaths occur in lower- and middle-income settings otherwise unaffected by warfare, according to the Geneva Declaration (2010).  In some countries, the number of adolescents who are murdered annually now surpasses the rate of infant mortality.

As the lead UN organization for children’s rights, UNICEF works for the protection of children, their families and communities through supporting a range of interventions at global, national and community levels to create a protective environment for children.  UNICEF promotes strategies that address underlying causes, behaviours, and attitudes, which threaten peace and the achievement of children’s rights.

Programming for Armed Violence Reduction is at a relatively nascent stage compared to many other sectors.  UNICEF is developing strong partnerships with several other UN agencies and with national partners to develop coherent approaches towards this complex issue, beginning with the Armed Violence Prevention Programme.  This partnership brings UNICEF together with UNDP, UNODC, WHO, UNODA and UN-Habitat to develop inter-agency and multi-faceted support to governments in reducing armed violence among their citizens.  As the sector grows, so do the lessons learnt.  Improving data and surveillance is key to targeted programming. Supporting justice for children and diversion programmes to protect children from coercion into criminal activity is a priority.  Promoting positive social norms, while dissuading communities from norms that can actually harm their children, is critical. Parenting and mentoring programmes have been proven to provide positive change in this regard.  Ensuring that schools are safe from all forms of violence is also key.

Visit the resources page for more information. 




Small arms survey, 2010

Organization for economic cooperation and development, Linking security system reform and armed violence reduction programming note, 2011

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and World Bank, Crime, violence, and development: trends, costs, and policy options in the Caribbean, March 2007

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