I belong to a fortunate majority. That of women who have never experienced physical or sexual violence before the age of 15. It could have gone dramatically different. Out of three women in the region where I was born, at least one has experienced physical or sexual violence in her childhood.
The data I am referring to were published earlier this year by the European Union, covering its 28 member countries.
Data comparable to the above is unfortunately not available for Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, the region where I am working with UNICEF. However, among the available information, there is some promising news. UNICEF’s global report Hidden in Plain Sight indicates that, in countries with available data, the rate of adolescent girls aged 15-19 reporting any physical violence (non-fatal) since age 15 ranged from 4 per cent in Kazakhstan to 14 per cent in Moldova. The numbers are lower than in other regions of the world.
The glass is half empty, however, when the report looks at violent child discipline. At least 50 per cent of children aged 2–14 years have experienced violent discipline at home, including both psychological aggression and physical punishment, in all countries of the region for which data is available. Rates vary widely between 74 per cent (Moldova) and 54.9 per cent (Ukraine). A higher percentage of boys experience this type of discipline.
Child marriage, forced marriage and bride abductions are currently practiced in some countries and among certain population groups, and put girls at high risk of experiencing violence in the family. Rates of officially registered marriages involving girls aged 15-19 range between 27.2 per cent (Albania) and 0.9 per cent (Kazakhstan).
So, how are countries in the region dealing with violence against girls and boys?
- Thirty-two countries which are members of the Council of Europe have ratified the ‘Lanzarote’ Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.
- Fourteen have ratified the ‘Istanbul’ Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, entered into force in August 2014.
Important legislative progress has been achieved with the criminalisation of domestic violence and banning of corporal punishment – but greater efforts are still needed to translate laws into practical measures.
Recent evidence indicates that in many countries, the absence of clear legal definitions of what constitutes physical violence contributes to perceptions that this is a justified method of disciplining children. Regulations for coordinated prevention and response to violence and protection of victims between police, prosecutors, judges, and health, education and child protection professionals, are largely absent. Services to respond to cases, particularly in rural areas, are still insufficient.
Without precise data, under-reporting of violence against boys and girls is assumed to be large across the region – a trend observed in the European Union. Lack of trust in state institutions, feelings of shame, low awareness of rights and support services, are mentioned as reasons by victims. Justice systems are not always adapted to hearing victims of violence.
Attitudes and social norms also remain a barrier. While a large majority of primary caregivers do not believe that children should be physically punished, practices may differ. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, 49.5 per cent of girls have experienced violent discipline at home, however only 13.8 per cent of caregivers believed that the child needs to be physically punished. Traditional gender norms and roles can reinforce male’s entitlements to aggressive behaviours. In Belarus, 12.4 per cent of women and 11.9 per cent of men linked domestic violence against women to stereotypical behaviours.
25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women Say NO – UNiTE
UNICEF working to #ENDviolence
In the region, UNICEF is contributing to the global #ENDViolence initiative by being the voice for children and helping them break the silence surrounding violence. We collect data, and support monitoring capacity at national level. We also provide technical assistance to strengthen legislation and capacities in child protection systems to coordinate systemic responses to and prevention of violence against girls and boys, and help shape societal norms.
UNICEF strengthens the capacity of civil society partners to engage in independent monitoring of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and in constructive policy dialogue with state decision-makers on how to improve identification, monitoring and responses to violence against children within the public social services.
UNICEF convenes governments, international partners, civil society and children to share experiences and get inspired through regional events and knowledge sharing platforms. The most recent of such events was hosted by the Republic of Belarus, focusing on Strengthening National Child Protection Systems to Protect Children from Neglect, Abuse, Exploitation and Violence, in Minsk, on 12-13 November 2014.
If 700 words were not enough to convince you to get involved and follow UNICEF’s work to #EndViolence against women, girls and boys in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, these children will do it in only one minute:
Elena Gaia is a Policy Analysis Specialist for Social and Economic Policy, based at the UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS.