The 2030 Agenda-implementation, follow up and review

When the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015. It committed to strive for a world guided by human rights, a world that is just, equitable and inclusive, and free from fear and from violence. Working towards sustained economic growth, social development and environmental protection for all, the agenda seeks to provide children and young people with a nurturing environment for the full realization of their rights and capabilities.

As well as being an ambitious plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, the Agenda places the abuse, neglect and exploitation of children at the heart of its concerns and, for the very first time, sets a specific global target (16.2) to end all forms of violence against children.

Realizing every child’s right to protection from violence is a fundamental dimension of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The implementation of the 2030 Agenda provides a path to achieving the vision of a world that we all seek.

Yet every year, and in every region of the world, millions of children suffer from sexual, physical and emotional violence, with millions more at risk. The most recent global estimate shows that over 1 billion children - half of all children in the world - experience violence each year. And even one child who is a victim of violence is one too many.

Violence compromises children’s rights. But in addition, it is often associated with poor rule of law and a culture of impunity and compromises social progress and human development. Several reports, studies and meta-analyses have shown the immediate and long-term consequences of violence in childhood. Its impact is often irreversible, impeding the optimal development of the brains of infants and adolescents, and compromising children’s well-being. Children who have been severely abused or neglected are more likely to experience learning difficulties and perform poorly at school, and at times end up dropping out. They may have low self-esteem and suffer from depression, which can lead, at worst, to risky behaviours and self-harm, deterioration of relationships, social exclusion and risk of involvement in criminal activities. Several studies and reports have linked violence in childhood to higher risk of sexually-related negative outcomes including sexual exploitation, multiple sex partners, being a victim or perpetrator of rape, unwanted pregnancy, and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Experiencing violence as a child has been linked with several non-communicable diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and tobacco, alcohol, and drug addiction, among others.

Witnessing violence can cause similar distress. Children who grow up in a violent household or community tend to internalize that behaviour as a way of resolving disputes, repeating the pattern of violence and abuse in adolescence and later years against their own spouses and children.

Beyond its destructive impact on individuals and families, violence against children carries serious economic and social costs and in a short period of time can destroy development gains that it took decades to build. Violence undermines the investments societies make in the education and health of children, and in the promotion of gender equality and empowerment. It also incurs major costs to the criminal justice, health and social service systems’ budgets and erodes the fabric of local economies through productivity and human capital losses. The global economic impact and cost resulting from the consequences of physical, psychological and sexual violence against children have been estimated to be as high as US$7 trillion, equivalent to 8 percent of global GDP.

Most girls and boys who are exposed to violence suffer in silence, loneliness and fear and are often left behind in access to appropriate care and support to overcome their trauma, and regain confidence and hope in building their future and developing to their full potential. Many children simply do not know where to turn for help or are unable to do it due to their age and dependency on others, especially when the perpetrator is a family member, caregiver, teacher or anyone else responsible for their protection and well-being.

In several countries where household-based Violence against Children Surveys (VACS) have been carried out, more than 25 percent of females and more than 10 percent of males reported experiencing childhood sexual violence; but few of these child victims sought services after the abuse, and not all who sought services received them. In most countries with VACS, the proportion of victims who received any help, including health and child protective services, was less than 10 percent, leaving the vast majority isolated and unsupported. The lack of care and attention for child victims of violence who are left behind is however preventable, with proven solutions.

Implementation of the 2030 Agenda must be consistent with the legal obligations undertaken by States under international law. For target 16.2, this means aligning actions with human rights standards, particularly the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols. Real change in children’s protection from violence happens when implementation efforts are serious and steadily pursued at the national level.

Indeed, the value and success of Agenda 2030 will be measured by the tangible progress made in implementation on the ground, especially for those furthest behind, those who are the most invisible and forgotten children and often also the most at risk of violence, abuse and exploitation. It is urgent to promote the adoption and implementation of a comprehensive and cohesive nationally owned sustainable development strategy that is supported by predictable resources; informed by solid evidence and robust, reliable and disaggregated data; and reviewed through an open, inclusive and periodic assessment of progress using internationally agreed benchmarks.

As the ten year process of implementation of the recommendations of the UN Study has shown, for target 16.2 there is a very sound basis to build upon. Across regions, an increasing number of States have promoted awareness raising and social mobilization initiatives on this topic and now have strong legislation and national plans of action to prevent and respond to violence, along with mechanisms to collect and analyse data to inform planning, policy and budgetary decisions, as well as monitoring and evaluation. Step by step, child protection systems are being strengthened; more and more professionals working with and for children are being trained in early detection, prevention and response to incidents of violence and to inform action by children’s testimonies and experience; incrementally children and their families are gaining access to counselling and legal advice and representation to seek redress, recovery and reintegration.

Just as global recognition of the magnitude of violence against children has sped forward over the past decade, the multi-sectoral evidence demonstrating that such violence is preventable has advanced. With accelerated progress in the implementation of the overarching recommendations of the UN Study, change is within reach. The development of comprehensive national strategies to prevent and address violence against children; enacting and enforcing explicit legal bans on all forms of violence to secure children’s protection; collecting, analysing and using appropriately disaggregated data on children’s exposure to violence; overcoming the social acceptance of violence; teaching positive parenting skills; helping children feel empowered and develop social emotional skills; ensuring universal access to health, protection, and support services of quality; and addressing factors that influence levels of violence and the resilience of children, their families and communities have all been critical to preventing violence and providing effective responses.

Putting the new agenda into national action is now underway and the follow-up and review process for implementation offers a unique potential to promote tangible progress towards the SDGs. The High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, as the central platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda at the global level, has held its very first session with a focus on voluntary national reviews by 22 countries, and thematic reviews of progress. The national reviews provide a strategic opportunity to highlight good practices, identify challenges and lessons learned and renew commitments towards ending violence against children and achieving target 16.2 and the other violence-related SDG targets.

Regional organizations and institutions are crucial players in implementation efforts and some, for example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the South Asia Initiative for Ending Violence against Children (SAIEVAC) and the Council of Europe, have already aligned new regional plans on violence against children with the SDGs.

The defining pledge of the 2030 Agenda is that no one will be left behind. The countdown to achieve this goal has started and the clock is ticking. It is imperative to move with a deep sense of urgency. Investing in violence prevention, protecting children’s lives and futures and saving nations’ resources means time gained in the countdown to a brighter future for all. The best way of avoiding leaving children behind is by putting children first! It is High Time to end the violence that blights the life of millions of children each year: the opportunity for change is too important to let slip. 

Marta Santos Pais
New York, 28 January 2016

Slideshow Image: