Violence against children can be eradicated by making it a national priority
A. K. Shiva Kumar and Baroness Vivien Stern say it is within the grasp of all countries, not just rich ones, to end violence against children, be it abuse at home or in school, by eliminating the taboos, encouraging them to speak out and promoting a human development agenda
Many of Asia’s children are not enjoying happy childhoods. A new report, Ending Violence in Childhood, reports that, globally, three out of four children suffer physical or emotional abuse, from corporal punishment to bullying, neglect, rape and murder. In China, 70 per cent endure corporal punishment at home, while 30 per cent report being bullied at school.
Some 1.7 billion children experienced interpersonal violence in 2014. This included 55 million adolescent girls aged 15-19 who had experienced physical violence since the age of 15, 18 million girls in the same age group who were sexually assaulted and 100,000 children who were murdered.
Even worse, patchy statistics, social acceptance, children’s fear and stigma lead to under-reporting.
Children who experience violence are more likely to suffer depression, turn to drugs, endure poor heath and take their own lives. Kids bullied or beaten at school avoid attending.
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Hope can be found. Violence is lower in countries committed to a human development agenda prioritising child health and education, particularly for girls. Developing countries have tackled the problem; countries don’t have to wait until they are rich.
The key is recognising that violence is not a private affair: governments have a duty to protect the rights of their citizens, including children.
Opportunities to prevent violence fall into three categories. First, building individual capacities, for example by ensuring children receive life skills and sex education; while parents and caregivers can create safe, supportive spaces for caregiving.
Second, violence prevention must be embedded in social services. Schools must become violence-free, end corporal punishment and crack down on bullying. Health professionals likely to witness an injured child need to know how and when to report suspected abuse. Authorities need to avoid sending children into institutional care, where the chance they will be abused skyrockets. Third, governments must tackle the causes of violence, bound up in issues of gender inequality and social norms that legitimise violence.
Violence needs to be spoken about and made visible, then the scale of the problem can be understood, taboos shattered and cycles broken. This requires individual courage and better monitoring and reporting systems.
Leaders need to take this issue seriously, implement practical policies and ensure children enjoy happy upbringings.
A. K. Shiva Kumar has over 35 years of experience in policy analysis, public management and evaluation. Baroness Vivien Stern is an independent member of the House of Lords in the UK