Why ending violence against children is essential to sustainable development

The world stands at a pivotal moment towards ending violence against children and realizing the noble vision of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In September 2015, the Member States of the United Nations will gather to agree on the new sustainable development agenda. In the short period from now until the end of September, the world has a golden opportunity to ensure that ending this most severe violation of children’s rights – the phenomenon of violence against children – remains at the heart of this global strategic agenda.

As we know from extensive research, and most poignantly from the voice and experience of children themselves, violence against children knows no borders. It cuts across boundaries of gender, age, race, culture, wealth and geography. It happens in the home, on the streets, in schools, online, in the workplace, in the justice system, and in institutions meant to care for children. No country is unaffected. Preventing and eliminating violence against children is a truly universal agenda.

The impact on every child exposed to violence is immense and long lasting! But beyond that violence against children weakens the very foundations of social progress and sustainable development. It diverts billions of dollars from social spending, slows economic development and erodes nations’ human and social capital.

While the scale of the problem is sometimes daunting, the good news is that violence against children is not inevitable and it is entirely preventable. Around the world, solemn commitments are being made at the highest level to protect children from violence. States are pledging to honour international treaties, introducing robust legal provisions, strengthening child protection systems and rallying support through public campaigns and wide social movements to overcome norms, attitudes and behaviour that condone violence against children. Children and young people are crucial partners in these efforts, using their voices to demand an end to violence and supporting their peers who fall victim.

A new sustainable development agenda that is based on human rights and is people centred must frame and reinforce the right of all children to a life free from violence. As Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, I have been a firm advocate for the protection children from violence to be a distinct and cross-cutting priority in the post-2015 development agenda.

This is also the call made by thousands of children who took part in consultations organized across regions and gave their views on the future they want for all – a world free from violence!

I welcome the targets proposed by the Open Working Group, which include those related to the ending all forms of violence against children – boys and girls.

We are now at the cusp of the intergovernmental process that will decide the new development agenda and I join with all partners to strongly reaffirm this message and call on the members of the United Nations family to ensure that the targets on violence against children remain at the heart of the new development framework.

Ending violence against children is first and foremost an ethical imperative towards the realization of children’s rights. But it is also a smart, cost-saving investment in the future we all seek. The multiplier and inter-generational effects of preventing and responding to violence against children will yield benefits for decades to come. The SDG targets on ending violence against children are achievable and measurable and are relevant to all countries. I am committed to continue working with all Governments and partners to ensure appropriate institutional responses and accountability mechanisms are in place to accelerate progress in their achievement and monitor change over time.

As the Secretary-General stressed in his Synthesis Report, “With this extraordinary process and the unprecedented leadership that it has witnessed, we have an historic opportunity and duty to act, boldly, vigorously and expeditiously, to turn reality into a life of dignity for all, leaving no one behind.”

In my view, the best way of avoiding leaving children behind is by putting them first!

UN Member States’ decisive voice and influence is needed to achieve this goal.

With a clear set of targets and indicators to mobilize action and to monitor progress on the protection of children’s rights, we will not only reduce levels of violence that blights the lives of countless children but we will also make steady progress across all other development goals.

We owe a childhood without fear and pain to every child, everywhere, at all times, and I look forward to the day that this becomes a reality.

Marta Santos Pais
New York, 5 March 2015