Special Representative presents annual report to the Human Rights Council focusing on the impact of violence in the mental health of children

New York/Geneva, 2 July 2020 - In her annual report, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Najat Maalla M’jid, outlines the impact that violence has on children’s mental health and provides an overview of major initiatives and developments to sustain and scale up efforts to safeguard children’s freedom from violence and advance implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In her report, the Special Representative reviews milestones of the past yeat on her strategy for this mandate period through the consultative and participatory process outilned in the office strategy for 2020. The strategy includes three priority areas: (a) advocacy and mobilization of all key stakeholders at the global, regional and national levels for the accelerated implementation of target 16.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals and of other related Goals; (b) ensuring that all forms of violence are included in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, thereby ensuring that no child is left behind; and (c) amplifying the voices of children, with particular attention paid to the most vulnerable. 

The report reviews developments promoted at the global, regional and national level and highlights an overview of the results achieved.

On the impact of violence in the mental health of children, evidence from high-, middle- and low-income countries indicates clearly that violent experiences increase the risk of negative mental health consequences. These include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, sleep and eating disorders, suicide and suicide attempts. In addition, exposure to childhood violence can increase a wide range of adult psychopathologies, including mood, anxiety, behaviour and substance disorders.

Research has consistently shown that childhood adversity and violence are key risk factors for the onset and persistence of mental disorders. Exposure to adverse childhood experiences, such as violence, can be traumatic, evoking toxic stress responses that have immediate and long-term adverse physiological and psychological effects.

The impact of violence on the architectural development of children’s brains is of particular concern, as this is linked with consequent emotional and behavioural disorders, poor health and poor social outcomes.14 Those effects are especially concerning in the light of the stark reality that more than 1 billion children – half of all children in the world – are exposed to violence every year.

The report reviews main negative effects of violence on children’s mental health; differences between children’s experience of violence across the life cycle; main risk and protective factors; effectiveness of interventions to prevent and provide care to children who experience or are exposed to violence and provides recomendations on enabling and effective strategies to protect children’s mental health and well-being.