Sustainable Development

How do we stop violence against children?

Alex Whiting
Journalist, The Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Violence against children is widespread and socially accepted in many parts of the world, but can be curbed with political will, money, and a change in age-old attitudes, the head of a new global partnership that will tackle the issue has said.

An estimated 120 million girls – about 1 in 10 of all the girls in the world – have experienced sexual violence, and six in 10 children are subjected to violent discipline, according to the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

Ending violence against children is one of the development targets world leaders are due to adopt at a summit later this month and the new partnership will try to meet this goal.

“These are pretty frightening statistics,” Susan Bissell, who has worked at UNICEF for 25 years and is heading the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, said in an interview in London.

“There are some common everyday acts of violence that could be prevented if there was more political will,” she said.

“We need to treat violence like a contagion. We need to interrupt it,” she said, referring to techniques used by the U.S.-based group Cure Violence that she said had worked.

The global partnership, to be launched in January 2016, will tackle many forms of violence including sexual violence, trafficking, recruitment by armed groups, physical violence at school and home, female genital mutilation and child marriage.

It will bring together governments that want to take part, U.N. agencies, NGOs, academics, community and faith leaders, and young people.

Bissell, who until last month was UNICEF’s chief of child protection, says the partnership is a first in both its scale and the breadth of groups involved.

The partners will draw up plans on ways to curb violence in the countries involved and report back on progress. A fund is being established to help poorer states.

“The good news is that the solutions – the things we know work – work across income, culture, class, (and) they’re pretty simple, straightforward things,” she said, adding that political will, and in poorer countries financial help, are needed.

Home visits by nurses for young families, setting up hotlines to referral services, keeping schools open after class, changing the times alcohol is sold in shops, have all been found to reduce violence, Bissell said.

Breathing life into development goals

Ending abuse, trafficking and all forms of violence against children is one of the development targets global leaders are due to adopt at a U.N. summit later this month, called the Sustainable Development Goals.

“We’ve never had prioritisation of protecting children (before now). We’ve had education, child survival, nutrition, water and sanitation – all extremely important.

“But … we need to be sure they are not surviving and being educated to later end up in a brothel, or on the streets, or with a military group,” Bissell said.

“What we really … want to do is breathe some life into implementing the Sustainable Development Goals,” she added.

This week, authors of a survey into child violence carried out by Nigeria’s population commission recommended that the government work to change perceptions that violence is socially acceptable.

They found six out of 10 Nigerian children experience some form of violence, and a quarter of girls suffer sexual violence. Adult relatives were the most common perpetrators of physical violence including kicking, burning and choking.

Bissell said attitudes towards children generally need to improve. “I’ve looked back to the 1600s on this. We’ve evolved in so many ways, but not in this one as much as we need to.”

Stem trafficking at source

Tackling child trafficking is both about attitudes and economics, and these need tackling at source, Bissell said.

“I’m not against all the work that’s been done on the rescue and law enforcement side, but I think we need to do a lot more on equity at source.

Many girls who end up in brothels have experienced sexual violence at home. “So let’s have that conversation right up front,” Bissell said.

Much more needs to be spent on reducing gender discrimination and family poverty in the battle against trafficking, she added.

“They’re really big things to address … But it would be more cost effective to stem the flow than to keep addressing it at the other end.”

“For me this partnership only matters if it’s going to make a real difference in the lives of kids. I’m not interested in (just) talking,” Bissell said.

This article is published in collaboration with [was first published by] the Thomson Reuters Foundation ( Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Alex Whiting joined the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s editorial team in July 2005, focusing on conflicts and humanitarian crises, women’s rights and corruption.

Image: Children, who fled from the violence in Mosul, play during sunset inside the Khazer refugee camp on the outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah.

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