Children worldwide endure 'staggering' physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in their communities, homes, and schools, often at the hands of parents or intimate partners, according to a report released Thursday by UNICEF.
“These are uncomfortable facts — no government or parent will want to see them,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement. “But unless we confront the reality each infuriating statistic represents — the life of a child whose right to a safe, protected childhood has been violated — we will never change the mind-set that violence against children is normal and permissible. It is neither. “
The report, titled "Hidden in Plain Sight," draws on "an unprecedented volume of data" from 190 countries, documenting "the lasting, often inter-generational effects of violence, finding that exposed children are more likely to become unemployed, live in poverty and be violent towards others." Because the data is self-reported, the authors note that actual numbers are likely even higher than the report indicates.
Among the most disturbing findings is the revelation that approximately 120 million girls under the age of 20 worldwide, about one in 10, have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts, and one in three adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 (84 million) who have ever been married have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners. What's more, close to half of all adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 (around 126 million) believe a husband is justified in hitting his wife under certain circumstances.
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"Experiences of sexual violence in childhood hinder all aspects of development: physical, psychological and social," the report reads, noting that children who experience sexual violence are likely to deal with mental health consequences such as depression or anxiety.
The report also shows that one-fifth of homicide victims globally are children and adolescents under the age of 20; that one in three students worldwide report being bullied in school; and about 17 percent of children in 58 countries are subject to severe forms of physical discipline such as being hit on the head or face.
In its strategies for preventing and responding to this widespread problem, UNICEF recommends supporting parents by promoting non-violent child-rearing techniques; providing children with "life-skills education" so they are better equipped to cope with violence; increasing public education and awareness in order to change attitudes around violence and intolerance; strengthening judicial, criminal and social systems and services; and generating additional evidence about violence and its human and socioeconomic costs.
Last July, UNICEF launched the #ENDViolence initiative to urge collective action to end violence against children.