World has failed to protect 1bn children from violence, sexual abuse – UN

Antonio Guterres, UN chief

The world has failed to protect around one billion children from are physical, sexual or psychological violence, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned.

WHO gave the warning in a statement reflecting on the “the Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children 2020’’   jointly published by some UN agencies.

The agencies are WHO, Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the UN Special Representative for ending Violence against Children – with the End of Violence Partnership.

The statement quoted Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General as saying, “There is never any excuse for violence against children.

“We have evidence-based tools to prevent it, which we urge all countries to implement. Protecting the health and well-being of children is central to protecting our collective health and well-being, now and for the future.”

The report is the first of its kind, charting progress in 155 countries against the “INSPIRE” framework, a set of seven strategies for preventing and responding to violence against children.

The report signals a clear need in all countries to scale up efforts to implement them.

While nearly all countries (88 per cent) have key laws in place to protect children against violence, less than half of countries (47 per cent) said these were being strongly enforced.

The report includes the first ever global homicide estimates specifically for children under 18 years of age – previous estimates were based on data that included 18 to 19-year olds.

It finds that, in 2017, around 40,000 children were victims of homicide.

The statement quoted UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, as saying, “violence against children has always been pervasive, and now things can be getting much worse.

“Lockdowns, school closures and movement restrictions have left far too many children stuck with their abusers, without the safe space that school will normally offer.

“It is urgent to scale up efforts to protect children during these times and beyond, including designating social service workers as essential and strengthening child helplines.”

Of the INSPIRE strategies, only access to schools through enrollment showed the most progress with 54  per cent of countries reporting that a sufficient number of children in need were being reached in this way.

“Between 32 per cent to 37 per cent of countries considered that victims of violence could access support services, while 26 per cent of countries provided programmes on parent and caregiver support.

“21 per cent of countries had programmes to change harmful norms; and 15 per cent of countries had modifications to provide safe physical environments for children.

“Although a majority of countries (83 per cent) have national data on violence against children, only 21 per cent used these to set baselines and national targets to prevent and respond to violence against children.

“About 80 per cent of countries have national plans of action and policies but only one-fifth have plans that are fully funded or have measurable targets.

“A lack of funding combined with inadequate professional capacity are likely contributing factors and a reason why implementation has been slow.’’ the report stated.

The statement further quoted Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, as saying, “during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the related school closures, we have seen a rise in violence and hate online – and this includes bullying.

“Now, as schools begin to re-open, children are expressing their fears about going back to school.

“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that schools are safe environments for all children. We need to think and act collectively to stop violence at school and in our societies at large.”

Stay-at-home measures, including school closures have limited the usual sources of support for families and individuals such as friends, extended family or professionals.

This further erodes victims’ ability to successfully cope with crises and the new routines of daily life. Spikes in calls to helplines for child abuse and intimate partner violence have been observed.

While online communities have become central to maintain many children’s learning, support and play, an increase in harmful online behaviours including cyberbullying, risky online behavior and sexual exploitation have been identified.

“Whilst this report was being finalised, confinement measures and the disrupted provision of already limited child protection services exacerbated the vulnerability of children to various forms of violence.

“To respond to this crisis, a unified child rights and multisectoral framework for action for children is critical, requiring  strong mobilisation of governments, bilateral/multilateral donors, civil society, private sector and children.

“It is critical for stakeholders whose views must be heard and truly taken into account to ensure duly protection and the possibility for all to thrive and reach their full potential,” said Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the UN’s Secretary-General on Violence against Children. (NAN)