United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today welcomed the world body’s first comprehensive study of violence against children as it calls for urgent action by everyone to combat the global scourge and care for its young victims.
The study was prepared by his Independent Expert, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, and presented to the General Assembly’s Third Committee this afternoon. The in-depth report concludes that violence against children “exists in every country of the world, cutting across culture, class, education, income and ethnic origin.”
“It brings together disturbing data on the incidence of various types of violence that children experience within the family, schools, alternative care institutions and detention facilities, the workplace and communities,” Mr. Annan said in a statement read out by his spokesman.
The Secretary-General appointed Mr. Pinheiro to lead the study in February 2003 and, in its introduction, the Independent Expert states that there can be “no compromise in challenging violence against children. Children’s uniqueness – their potential and vulnerability, their dependence on adults – makes it imperative that they have more, not less, protection from violence.”
“The core message of the Study is that no violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable… Member States must act now with urgency to fulfil their human rights obligations and other commitments to ensure protection from all forms of violence,” it states.
“While legal obligations lie with States, all sectors of society, all individuals, share the responsibility of condemning and preventing violence against children and responding to child victims. None of us can look children in the eye, if we continue to approve or condone any form of violence against them.”
The report covers cruel and humiliating punishment, genital mutilation of girls, neglect, sexual abuse, homicide, and other forms of violence against children and paints a sobering picture backed up by statistics and in many cases children’s testimonies themselves.
For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that almost 53,000 children died worldwide in 2002 as a result of homicide. Studies from many countries across the globe suggest that 80 to 98 per cent of children suffer physical punishment in their homes, with a third or more experiencing severe physical punishment resulting from the use of implements.
The WHO estimates that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence during 2002. It also estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone some form of female genital mutilation/cutting. Estimates from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), published in 2005, suggest that in sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt and the Sudan, three million girls and women are subjected to genital mutilation/cutting every year.
The study, which will be formally launched to the public tomorrow, puts forward 12 overarching recommendations which apply to all efforts to prevent violence against children and to respond to it if it occurs, as well as five specific recommendations applying to the home and family, schools and other educational settings, institutions for care or detention, the workplace and the community.
Most of the 10 pages of recommendations and follow-up are directed primarily at States and refer to their legislative, administrative, judicial, policymaking, service delivery and institutional functions, while also emphasizing the primacy of the family.
“Bearing in mind that the family has the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child and that the State should support parents and caregivers, to care for children… [States are recommended to] develop or enhance programmes to support parents and other carers in their child-rearing role,” it states.
Another key recommendation, that also emphasizes the importance of the family, calls on States to “prioritize reducing rates of institutionalization of children by supporting family preservation and community-based alternatives, ensuring that institutionalized care is used only as a last resort.”
Implementation of domestic labour laws is also recommended, as is giving “priority to eliminating the ‘worst forms’ of child labour, which are inherently violent.” It also recommends paying “particular attention” to economic exploitation of children in the informal sector, citing as examples agriculture, fishing and domestic service, where the phenomenon is more prevalent.
While noting that the “primary responsibility” for implementing these detailed recommendations rests with the State, the study concludes that the participation of other actors – including parents and children themselves, the UN, human rights institutions, educators and other groups – is “critical to assist the State to carry out its task.”