Global Agenda 2030 - Building a world that is safer for children

On Friday 25 September, the new global sustainable development agenda was unanimously adopted by the Member States of the United Nations. The new agenda includes for the first time a specific target (16.2) to end all forms of violence against children, and ending the abuse, neglect and exploitation of children is mainstreamed across several other violence-related targets. This is the time to celebrate the adoption of the new development agenda and highlight how the global community can make the vision of target 16.2 a reality for all the world's children. 

For the very first time, the dignity of children and their right to live free from violence and from fear is recognized as a distinct priority on the international development agenda.

This is an historic achievement! Together, we can transform this unique momentum into an unstoppable movement towards a world free from fear and from violence.

Together, we have an extraordinary opportunity to promote a process of social change. But alongside this opportunity, comes a very special responsibility. Protecting children from violence is not simply a nice ideal and cannot become diluted amongst many other concerns. There is no time for complacency!

It is upon us to show leadership, to mobilize and inspire action, championing this noble cause, united in a wide alliance of tireless ambassadors committed to the cause of children’s freedom from violence.

As we know well, the voice of children was crucial in creating the vision we now see reflected in the Agenda 2030. Children were eager to contribute to the shaping of the sustainable development agenda. And as they have reminded us over the past few days, they remain strongly committed to playing a crucial role in the steps ahead, as serious partners and agents of change.

Children have a clear vision of the world they want. Across regions, growing up in safety and free from violence is constantly one of their top priorities.

Children’s call has been unequivocal: “Violence is a major obstacle to child development and it urgently needs to be brought to an end!”

Children’s long-held demand is now reflected in the new development agenda: we have a standalone target for the elimination of all forms of violence against children; and freedom from violence is mainstreamed across several other violence-related targets. This is truly an historic achievement!

The SDGs provide a shared sense of purpose and a renewed impetus to worldwide implementation efforts. But they convey in addition a very special sense of urgency and responsibility to leave no one behind!

Yet, still today, millions of girls and boys of all ages and in all regions continue to be exposed to intolerable levels of violence – in their neighbourhoods, in their schools, in institutions aimed at their care and protection, and also within the family.

Violence leaves long lasting scars in children’s lives, and often irreversible consequences on their development and wellbeing, and on opportunities to thrive later in life. But much beyond child victims, violence weakens the very foundation of social progress, generating huge costs for society, slowing economic development and eroding nations’ human and social capital.

Protecting children from violence is a human rights imperative, a question of good governance and also of good economics. But violence will only become part of a distant past when the values, goals and targets of the new sustainable development agenda will be translated into tangible national action.

The good news is that we are not starting from scratch! Indeed, significant change is gaining ground around the world! Thanks to the UN Study on Violence against Children and its strategic recommendations, we have a lot to build upon!

Today, 51 countries have a comprehensive and explicit legal ban on all forms of violence against children and over 50 others are moving towards the same goal. Legislation is crucial to lay the foundation of children’s protection from violence, conveying a clear message to society of the imperative to safeguard children from violence everywhere and at all times; providing legitimacy for prevention and response efforts, for child victims’ assistance and the fight against impunity; and supporting advocacy, sensitization and capacity building initiatives to help promote change in attitudes and behaviour condoning violence.

Similarly, more than 90 countries have in place a national strategy to prevent and address violence against children. So many examples could be given! In Tanzania the Multi Sector National Plan is advancing firmly in its implementation and budgeting process. In Indonesia, VAC is a core component of the National Development Plan, and its operationalization is being pursued through a wide decentralization process. In Norway, the action plan promotes a “good childhood that lasts a lifetime.” In the Dominican Republic the National Roadmap has brought together all stakeholders to secure an engaged and effective process of implementation. Just a few days ago, the Australian Government announced a new safety package of measures and resources to stop violence against children and women at risk.

Step by step strong child protection systems are being built and strengthened around the world. More and more social workers, police, education, health, criminal justice, migration and refugee asylum personnel are being trained to early detect, prevent and respond to incidents of violence and to listen to and follow on children’s testimonies about violence in their lives.

Incrementally, children and their families are gaining access to counselling and legal advice and representation, to address incidents of violence.

There is a growing consolidation of data and research, alongside the promotion of non-violent values and awareness-raising through parenting programmes and innovative information campaigns and initiatives.

Regional organizations and institutions have become crucial players in these efforts, pursuing the implementation of regional plans on violence against children, in some cases being reviewed to bring them in line with the sustainable development agenda – for example in ASEAN and in the Council of Europe.

These are significant developments which lay a solid foundation to translate the new development agenda into strategic national action towards the elimination of all forms of violence against children. Building upon these implementation efforts and amplifying their outreach we can achieve target 16.2 in all countries.

To be successful, the implementation of the new development agenda requires strengthened partnerships and the mobilization of significant resources. In this process, the protection of children from violence cannot be an afterthought.

We need to be united in wide global alliance: of Governments, civil society, community and religious leaders, corporations, international organizations, and all other actors, including of course, children themselves.

The Global Partnership and associated Fund to End Violence against Children has the potential to bring to a new scale the commitment and action we have seen growing around the world to build a world free from violence.

The Global Partnership can help further harness our collective efforts, build stronger foundations, and generate solid funding that is needed to build a safer world for children. I strongly support this effort and am committed to joining forces with you all to help bring it about.

And I see promising opportunities to advance this cause! Next year, the international community will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the UN Study on Violence against Children. It is a time to consolidate the gains that have been made, grasp the lessons learned and redouble efforts to accelerate progress towards a world free from violence!  But it is also a momentous occasion to energize the initial stage of the inspiring journey of implementation of the SDGs.

This is a crucial process the Global Partnership can help to decisively amplify!

We are starting an exciting initial phase of the SDGs implementation. But this will also be a time to assess how serious the world’s commitment is to protecting children from violence!

The violence related targets in the new development agenda are achievable and measurable – and the Global Partnership can help strengthen the monitoring of progress towards target 16.2.

I strongly endorse the call for better data and enhanced national capacity to measure progress and to develop national baselines where they do not yet exist. We must support efforts to consolidate knowledge and existing data systems. But in this era of “the data revolution”, we also need to explore new approaches and methodologies to capture the magnitude and incidence of violence against all girls and boys below the age of 18. 

The SDG target 16.2 needs robust monitoring of the prevalence and severity of this global phenomenon. It needs to measure, with disaggregated data, children’s exposure to sexual, physical and emotional violence.

In several countries, national household surveys have been conducted using a rigorous methodology to gather such data. Just two weeks ago, the Government of Nigeria released the results of its first national survey on violence against children. The findings in Africa’s most populous country have raised urgent calls for action; and in response, the President launched the Year of Action to End Violence against Children.

Children have high expectations on us all. They want a future where all children and everyone else can enjoy a safe, happy and healthy life, free from fear and from violence in all its forms.

This is their vision. But as they tell me time and time again, “a vision without a plan is only a nice dream; and a plan without a vision can become a nightmare.”

The implementation of the SDG agenda can help build a world as big as children’s dream. This is children’s ambition and this is the noble cause we have at hand! I have no doubt you will join in this endeavour!


Marta Santos Pais
New York, 27 September 2015