Six steps to take to end violence against children
In 2014, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the protection of children from violence has gained increasing global priority. There has been an incremental development of legislative and policy reform, and enhancements in child protection systems. However, even as we celebrate these notable achievements, we must also recognize that progress has been too slow, too uneven and too fragmented to make a genuine breakthrough. Children remain at risk of violence in every setting, including those where they should feel safest – in schools, in care and justice institutions, and within the home.
Ending violence against children is an ethical imperative, but it also makes economic sense. Besides its impact on child victims and their families, violence has far-reaching costs for society: around the world it is diverting billions of dollars from social spending, slowing economic development; eroding human and social capital; and severely limiting children from reaching their full potential resulting in huge losses to society.
Urgent action is needed and here are six key steps that countries can take to realize commitment to eliminate violence against children.
Develop a national, child-centered, integrated, multidisciplinary and time-bound strategy to address violence against children.
Take all necessary steps to mainstream the protection of children from violence at all levels of government and include it as a core component of the national development agenda. Ensure that relevant professionals have adequate training on child-sensitive violence prevention and response mechanisms, and receive guidance on violence prevention, reporting and response. Crucially, provide the necessary funding to enable these initiatives to succeed.
Enact an explicit legal ban on violence against children backed by effective enforcement.
The legal prohibition of violence against children should capture all its manifestations, including in emerging areas such as abuse of new information and communication technologies. Governments must invest in law enforcement, in family- and child-sensitive judicial systems, and in strong, supportive child protection systems and services.
Increase efforts to make violence against children socially unacceptable.
Eliminating violence against children requires change in deep-rooted attitudes and behavior that sees it as acceptable, especially as a form of discipline within the family and in schools and institutions. Mobilizing all stakeholders, including community and religious leaders, to raise awareness and build upon positive social norms can overcome entrenched beliefs that condone violence.
Ensure the social inclusion of girls and boys who are at special risk in the prevention and response to violence against children.
Families must be supported so that they are able to adequately care for their children. This will help prevent child abandonment and stop the placement of children in residential care where they may be at increased risk of violence. This is especially important for children under three years of age whose development can be severely compromised by institutionalization. Investment in positive parenting, systems of social protection and early childhood care and development should be given priority attention and funding.
Build or enhance strong data systems and sound evidence to prevent and address violence against children.
Monitoring tools and indicators must be developed that cover all children, including boys and girls of every age and background. Universal birth registration is the first and most crucial component of an effective monitoring system.
Join with other governments to ensure the protection of children from violence is at the heart of the post-2015 international development agenda.
As the international community considers the future global development agenda and formulates the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, violence against children, including among the most vulnerable and marginalized girls and boys, must be made a priority and recognized as a cross-cutting concern. Explicit targets on the elimination of all forms of violence against children and clear indicators and monitoring mechanisms must be part of the post-2015 agenda.
Preventing and ending violence against children requires a global effort on an unprecedented scale – an effort that includes political leaders, ordinary citizens, as well as children and young people. This year of celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a golden opportunity to boost this effort and place the protection of children from violence at the heart of the policy agenda.
Marta Santos Pais
New York, 23 October 2014