New UN report shows countries failing to protect children against violence

While global attention is focused on containing the COVID-19 pandemic, one out of two of two children across the world continue to be affected by physical, sexual or psychological violence, according to a new report released by UNESCO, WHO, UNICEF, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence against Children and the End Violence Partnership.

The report – Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children 2020 – brings to light the increasing number of children who are suffering injuries, disabilities and death because countries are not following established strategies to protect them from harm. The first of its kind, it charts countries’ progress against the “INSPIRE” framework, a set of seven strategies for preventing and responding to violence against children.

The report includes the first ever global homicide estimates for children under 18 years of age. In 2017, an estimated 40150 children were victims of homicide. It also draws on data from UNESCO’s 2019 report, Behind the Numbers: Ending school violence and bullying, highlighting that bullying is a major problem worldwide, with 32% of students aged 11- 15 bullied by their peers at school at least once in the last month.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, and the related school closures, we have seen a rise in violence and hate online – and this includes bullying. Now, as schools begin to re-open, children are expressing their fears about going back to school,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that schools are safe environments for all children. We need to think and act collectively to stop violence at school and in our societies at large.”

Uneven progress in implementing violence prevention strategies

Laws that ban corporal punishment of children in all settings, including schools, have the potential to reduce the violence perpetrated by adults on children, and also between children, the report finds. Yet, while 79% of countries which responded for the report ban corporal punishment, only 30% of respondents believe that those who are violent towards children for whatever reason, including teachers, will be sanctioned.

“This report is a strong reminder that having good policies is not enough, and that we need to work constantly to make sure that these policies are enforced, said UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini. “It will be impossible to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education for all if children cannot learn in schools that are safe and free of violence, including violence perpetrated by students, teachers and other school personnel, and corporal punishment.”

COVID-19 response and its impact on children

Stay-at-home measures, including school closures, have limited the usual sources of support for families and individuals such as friends, extended family or professionals. This erodes victims’ ability to successfully cope with crises and the new routines of daily life. Spikes in calls to helplines for child abuse and intimate partner violence have been observed.

And while online communities have become central to maintain learning, support and play for many children, an increase in harmful online behavior including cyberbullying, risky online behavior and sexual exploitation have also been identified.

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