Children as agents of positive change. A mapping of children’s initiatives across regions, towards an inclusive and healthy world free from violence

We are in the midst of a new era of child engagement, where children are to be considered partners and key players in achieving change. Children are acting against violence and being part of the solution everywhere, taking forward positive change, working as partners with adults and young people.

This report provides an overview of the different actions taken forward by children mostly in times of COVID-19, but not limited to it. It looks at children’s diverse roles when helping to prevent, address, and report violence (including supporting their peers); it helps to understand how children are contributing and being part of the solutions  when thinking about building back better, and how children are helping accelerate fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It showcases how children are collaborating with adults and with decision makers, and how children are proving to be agents of change. 

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Hidden scars: how violence harms the mental health of children

More than 1 billion children – half of all children in the world – are exposed to violence every year.  It is clear that violence has a severe impact on the mental health of children. Exposure to violence is often traumatic, and it can evoke toxic responses to stress that cause both immediate and longterm physiological and psychological damage. The consequences of violence include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, substance use disorders, sleep and eating disorders, and suicide.

The cumulative impact of violence on children’s mental health is shaped by the way in which children experience violence as they move from early childhood to adolescence, with variations in both the forms of violence to which they are exposed and the consequences for their mental health. These consequences can be passed from one generation to the next, particularly for children whose childhoods have been characterized by exposure to intimate partner violence, and for mothers who experienced violence as they grew up.

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Solutions for Children Previously Affiliated With Extremist Groups: An Evidence Base to Inform Repatriation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration

Tens of thousands of foreign, Iraqi and Syrian children are being held in detention on suspected ISIS association or terror-related offenses, or in camps. These children are exposed to violence, due process violations and family separation. Securing solutions for these children must be pursued in advance or in parallel with efforts to facilitate repatriation.

The UN standpoint is that identified children should be repatriated and children born to nationals be granted citizenship. Further, such children should be considered as having been illegally recruited by violent extremist groups, and thus should be treated primarily as victims and decisions concerning them made in accordance with their best interests.

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A Child-Resilience Approach to Preventing Violent Extremism

The current discourse on violent extremism focuses largely on young adults, thereby overlooking key drivers, influences and causal pathways that are specific to children. These include children’s biological tendency towards risk taking and heightened vulnerability to polarized message content. It is also clear that when children become associated with violent extremist groups, this can reflect an age-specific psychological response to their surroundings or circumstances. For example, where children grow up being exposed to chronic marginalization, violence or social injustice, joining an extremist group can represent an act of agency, or a means to feel connected, assert power or exact revenge.

When these insights are applied to programing, a key message is the importance of children not entering adolescence with underdeveloped social bonds or socio-behavioural deficits. This is because regardless of why a child joins a violent group, once engaged, this pathway is rapid, unidirectional, often hidden, and highly resilient to interruption.

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When children take the lead: 10 child participation approaches to tackle violence

This report draws on 10 case studies to examine child participation experiences related to different forms of violence, spanning initiatives driven by governments, international organizations and civil society. It zooms in on children’s roles, the methods used, the balance between offline and online, and how each initiative has achieved its impact. It identifies common elements that make child participation effective for violence prevention, reporting and awareness, offering concrete recommendations for children’s rights-based organizations.

This analysis of 10 child participation approaches aims to support child rights practitioners in their efforts to promote effective child participation. The ultimate goal is to unleash the positive power of millions of children who want to safeguard their right to a world free from violence.

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Children speak about the impact of deprivation of liberty: the case of Latin America

The risk of violence faced by children affected by deprivation of liberty has been a priority for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children since the outset of her mandate in 2009. In an effort to shed further light on the impact of deprivation of liberty on the enjoyment of children’s rights, the Special Representative partnered with UNICEF, the Governments of Paraguay and Uruguay and the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Platform for Children with a Parent deprived of Liberty (NNAPEs Platform) to document the views and experiences of children affected by the deprivation of liberty. A total of 504 children deprived of liberty and those who have parents and caregivers in detention were consulted between mid-2017 and early 2018. Guided by the UN Study, the 2030 Agenda and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, this report describes the impact of deprivation of liberty on children, both when they are deprived of liberty themselves and when they are affected by the deprivation of liberty of a parent or a caregiver. 

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Violence against children on the move - From a continuum of violence to a continuum of protection

Every minute, 20 people – many of them children – are forced from their homes by violence, persecution or conflict. While children account for less than one third of the global population, they make up more than half of today’s refugees worldwide.

Recent years have seen growing numbers of children and adolescents on the move, alone or with their families, within and across countries. Some may move by choice, aiming to learn new skills and make good use of their talents, improve their education, or explore new options – often in the world’s growing cities – to reach their full potential.

They may choose to widen their horizons through exposure to new cultures, languages and social contexts, or move to join family members.

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Keeping the promise: ending violence against children by 2030

This report aims to help us keep that promise to children. It documents what has been achieved to date through collective action, reminds us of the prevalence and nature of violence, sets out the evidence on solutions, and charts a course for accelerated progress. Violence against children is widespread and pervasive but is not inevitable! By placing children at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, and at the centre of all we do, we can realize its noble vision of a world free from fear and violence for all. 

From foreword by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres

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The private sector and the prevention of violence against children in Latin America and the Caribbean

The private sector and the prevention of violence against children in Latin America and the Caribbean report presents a set of case studies illustrating how actions by businesses across the region are helping to secure children’s protection from violence, while also pointing out the alarming context of violence against children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Our joint publication is a key contribution to the realization of children’s rights and the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which has the ambitious vision of a world that invests in its children and safeguards their freedom from violence, abuse and exploitation. This report emphasizes the crucial role that the private sector plays in this new development paradigm.

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Violence prevention must start in early childhood

Ending violence in children’s lives and investing in early childhood are first and foremost a question of children’s rights, further supported by scientific evidence which shows that a violence-free early childhood matters: the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are the foundation for a person’s whole future development. Violence in early childhood is a stressful, painful experience for a child in the immediate term, with the further risk of midand long-term consequences. The optimum physical, intellectual and socio-emotional potential of children depends on receiving loving care and enjoying a nurturing environment from the very start.

Scientific research shows that early childhood stress - including exposure to violence - compromises children’s development, health and education,
with long-term negative mental and physiological consequences. Neuroscience advances have vastly increased our understanding of how a
child’s early brain development can be impacted by exposure to violence. Violence can alter the developing brain’s structure and function which
can impact language acquisition and cognitive functioning, resulting in social and emotional competency deficits and generating fear, anxiety,
depression and the risk of self-harm and aggressive behaviour.

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Celebrating childhood: A journey to end violence against children

This book is about what ending violence against children takes, means and brings. It’s a celebration of childhood and a manifesto for a world where children can grow with dignity and free from violence.
It gathers inspiring testimonies of people whose talent and time are bringing us closer to a world of nonviolence for all children. The contributors are remarkable people of all ages and  backgrounds. They are visionary leaders and child rights defenders, scholars and artists, all of whom have demonstrated decisive commitment to build a better world for children.
We trust that you will be inspired by the personal stories, the professional achievements and the dreams and creations presented in this book. In the countdown to 2030, everybody counts. Children want to count on you! Every citizen of the world can be an agent of change. And this can inspire others to bring about the change we need.

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Ending the torment: tackling bullying from schoolyard to cyberspace

Bullying, including cyberbullying, affects a high percentage of children at different stages of their development, often severely undermining their health, emotional wellbeing and school performance. Victims may suffer sleep disorders, headaches, stomach pain, poor appetite and fatigue as well as feelings of low-self-esteem, anxiety, depression, shame and at times suicidal thoughts; these are psychological and emotional scars that may persist into adult life. 

Bullying is a key concern for children. It is one of the most frequent reasons why children call a helpline. It gains centre stage in surveys conducted with school children, and generates a special interest when opinion polls are conducted through social media with young people.

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Protecting children affected by armed violence in the community

Armed violence in the community compromises children’s rights and is associated with serious risks for their development and safety, causing children to be injured, disabled, traumatized, exploited, orphaned, imprisoned and at times killed. Living in a community affected by armed violence has consequences for children who are targeted as well as those who witness or feel threatened by such an environment. Armed violence disrupts social harmony and family life, interrupts schooling, compromises health care, undermines economic development and generates fear which limits children’s ability to move freely, participate in the life of their community, enjoy childhood and develop as empowered citizens.

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Safeguarding the rights of girls in the criminal justice system

Girls often face significant barriers to accessing justice, whether they are victims of crime, witnesses or alleged o"enders. All too often, legislation and criminal, administrative and civil proceedings are inadequate for the safeguarding of their rights, while appropriate policies for heir protection are absent or poorly implemented.

In short, as a consequence of their age and gender, girls face a double challenge when they come in contact with criminal justice systems, a challenge rooted in discriminatory attitudes and perceptions that persist in societies around the world.

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Why Children’s Protection from Violence should be at the Heart of the Post-2015 Development Agenda - A Review of Consultations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

In 2014 the world celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. As United Nations Member States intensify their efforts to agree on the next generation development framework, we have a golden opportunity to tackle violence against children. In recent consultations around the world, organized to help inform the post-2015 agenda, violence was recognized both as a human rights violation in itself and as a major barrier to progress in education, health and other development goals. Stakeholders highlighted children’s particular vulnerability to poverty and violence, and the message was clear - violence must end!

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Releasing Children's Potential and Minimizing Risks - ICTs, the Internet and Violence against Children

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are developing ever more rapidly, with profound effects upon societies around the world. They bring with them enormous benefits and opportunities, most especially by facilitating access to the Internet. ICTs are creating new ways of communicating, learning, delivering services and doing business.

For children and youth, who are often particularly adept at harnessing the potential of these technologies, ICTs and the Internet represent an important opportunity for empowerment and engagement, offering new means of experiencing creative processes, communication, social interaction, entertainment and learning. Children are not simply passive recipients of information; they are also engaged participants and actors in the online world.

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Toward a world free from violence - Global survey on violence against children

As underlined in this Global Survey, violence against girls and boys cuts across boundaries of age, race, culture, wealth and geography. It takes place in the home, on the streets, in schools, in the workplace, in detention centres and in institutions for the care of children. For countless girls and boys the world over, childhood is described by one word: fear.institutional response. The Report’s findings and recommendations point the way towards a future in which children are able to grow up well-nourished, in good health, well-educated, resilient and free from violence. We owe a childhood without fear to each and every one of our children.

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Promoting Restorative Justice for Children

Today, more than 1 million children are deprived of their liberty worldwide, and countless children face violent and degrading treatment throughout the criminal justice process. In light of this dramatic situation, it is imperative to promote strategies that provide an alternative to detention and custodial sentences for children. 

This report examines the potential of restorative justice programmes to facilitate conflict resolution and provide appropriate protection to children. This applies to the justice system, whether children are victims, offenders or witnesses, but it also applies in a range of other contexts, including at school, in residential care units, in social welfare settings and in the community. 

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Protecting Children from Harmful Practices in Plural Legal Systems with a special emphasis in Africa

Across regions, millions of children continue to suffer from various forms of harmful practices, including female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, breast ironing, son preference, female infanticide, virginity testing, honour crimes, bonded labour, forced feeding and nutritional taboos, accusation of witchcraft, as well as a great number of other less known practices.

Harmful practices may be traditional or emerging, but generally have some cultural, social or religious underpinning. Common for most harmful practices is that they have devastating consequences on the child’s life, development, health, education and protection. 

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Safe and child-sensitive counselling, complaint and reporting mechanisms to address violence against children

Counselling, complaint and reporting mechanisms constitute critical remedies to address breaches of children’s rights, including violence in all its forms. Their development is anchored in international human rights standards and, in view of their urgency, the Brazil Congress against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents called on their establishment in all countries by 2013. 

The need for safe, well-publicized, confidential and accessible mechanisms for children to report incidents of violence was also a serious area of concern addressed by the UN Study on Violence against Children. The Study recommended their establishment, including through telephone helplines which children can access to report abuse, speak to a trained counsellor in confidence, and ask for support and advice.

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