Violence against children

UNICEF works with partners to prevent and respond to violence against children. It aims to reduce violence at home, at school, in the community and online, and to break the silence on this hidden issue.

Afghani Boy


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 South Asia. Over half of the world’s children experienced severe violence last year of whom 64 per cent are in South Asia. Violence can be physical, sexual, and emotional and also manifest itself as neglect. It can occur in homes, schools, care and justice systems, workplaces and communities.

Perpetrators include parents, family members, teachers, caretakers, law enforcement authorities and other children.  Violence can be interpersonal and also a result of structures that allow or promote violent behaviour.

For example: 

  • In Afghanistan, 74 per cent of girls and boys aged 2-14 experienced some form of violent discipline. 
  • More than 70 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 in Bhutan believe wife-beating is justified under certain circumstances.
  • In Sri Lanka, nearly one-third of the 15,000 legal trials pending nation-wide involve some form of violence towards a child.
  • In Bangladesh, 47 per cent of married girls aged 15-19 who have experienced physical or sexual violence did so through their partners or husbands. 
  • In India, 9 per cent of girls and women aged 15-49 reported having experienced sexual violence including forced sexual intercourse and other sexual acts; for many women this occurs at a young age with up to 5 percent of 15-19-year-olds having experienced the same.
  • In the Maldives, more than 17 per cent of adolescent boys in grades 8 to 10 reported that they were physically forced to have sex.
  • Violence towards children with disabilities is also of concern across South Asia as disabled children often face severe discrimination, are much less likely to be in school, and are more likely to be victims of sexual, physical and verbal violence. 

As internet access expands, violence against children is finally taking on new dimensions such as cyber-bullying and online sexual exploitation, with damaging and life-changing consequences. Many countries of the region are highly vulnerable to natural hazards. The risks of violence especially increase during emergencies that weaken the abilities of families and communities to protect children. Girls, in particular, face grave risks of gender-based violence during emergencies. 


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.

Policies and laws are reviewed to ensure that these recognise the full definition of violence and also include response and prosecutorial mechanisms. This is particularly noted considering emerging areas of violence not previously accounted for.

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.

An important part of addressing violence is the generation of reliable data making violence more visible, revealing its hidden nature and initiating the process of breaking down social acceptance of its various forms. Protecting children from violence is a priority of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Five goals and nine specific targets are indeed related to violence and abuse, including trafficking, sexual and other types of exploitation, harmful practices such as child marriage and the worst forms of child labour. They, furthermore, promote safe public spaces as well as safe and non-violent learning environments.

INSPIRE is a technical support package for all institutions committed to preventing and responding to violence against children and adolescents. INSPIRE, distilled from the best available evidence, details seven strategies to end violence: implementation and enforcement of laws; norms and values; safe environments; parent and caregiver support; income and economic strengthening; response and support services; and education and life skills. 

UNICEF supports measures to prevent and respond to violence against children across the region, breaking the silence on this hidden issue and transforming attitudes that allow it to persist.  


These resources represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region.The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.