Violence against children is a universal problem. From our work at UNICEF and with all of our partners across the world, we know all too well that violence against children – be it physical, emotional or sexual abuse – happens everywhere, in every country, every community and every segment of society.
Too often, violence against children is hidden in the shadows. Too many people turn a blind eye. Too many people – adults and children – do not know that it is a child’s right to be protected from violence. And far too many children lack the confidence and the means to speak out, to tell a trusted adult, to find a safe space.
Violence does more than harm individual children. Children who have been abused may experience difficulty in learning and socialization, compromising their ability to become productive adults and citizens, and thereby affecting the future of their societies.
Violence against children undermines the very fabric of society.
What can we do?
We all know that violence against children is never acceptable. What we now must and can do is to protect children from violence. It is preventable. We all have a role to play – governments and lawmakers, parents, extended families, teachers, religious groups and community members, the media. What is it that we can do?
First, we must begin by shining a light on violence and speaking up, no matter where violence occurs, by making the invisible visible. Today, nearly 70 countries and hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life have joined the call. They are speaking up to end violence against children.
Second, we need to take action. Government officials, experts and NGOs in countries as far apart as Algeria and Nepal are coming up with the best actions to prevent and respond to the scourge of violence in their countries. Different situations require different actions, from greater investment in social protection to parent education programmes; from keeping schools safe to supporting one-stop centres, which bring together all of the services needed for children who experience physical and sexual violence.
Last, we need to make sure that protection of children from violence is at the centre of the development agenda at the global level, at the national level and at the local level.
A country takes action
Today, violence remains a harsh reality for many children in Papua New Guinea.
While there are no national data on violence against children, studies demonstrate that about 8 in 10 children experience emotional violence, about 7 in 10 experience physical abuse and about 5 in 10 report experience of sexual abuse. Still more children grow up witnessing family violence.
It is time for us to make certain that every child counts and to ensure that every girl and every boy in Papua New Guinea can grow up feeling secure and protected. Government officials, civil society, faith-based organizations, development partners, the media and children, themselves, are joining in a unique partnership to Talk Out, and Take Action to #ENDviolence against Children.
By talking out, we can challenge cultural and traditional practices that hurt children. We can explain that it is a child’s right to be protected. We can encourage citizens to report cases of violence to authorities and encourage children to tell adults they trust if they experience violence.
And we can take action. The country has a strong legal and policy framework for the protection of children. We can now make sure that policies like the Child Protection Act are adequately implemented. We can scale up investments in family support centres and in positive parenting programmes. And we can all call on neighbours, friends and faith communities to take action and help when a child suffers violence. Because these children are our lives and our hopes.
UNICEF remains committed to supporting Papua New Guinea’s campaign and the national efforts to end violence against children. Together, let us talk out, and take action to end violence against children.
Yoka Brandt joined UNICEF in February, 2012 as the Deputy Executive Director. She brings over 20 years of experience in international assistance and humanitarian emergency response.