Half of the world's children – approximately one billion children – each year, are affected by physical, sexual or psychological violence as countries have failed to follow established strategies to protect them, a new report says.
The report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Unicef, Unesco, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence against Children, and the End Violence Partnership was published on June 18.
"There is never any excuse for violence against children," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. "We have evidence-based tools to prevent it, which we urge all countries to implement. Protecting the health and well-being of children is central to protecting our collective health and well-being, now and in the future."
"Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children 2020" is the first report of its kind, charting progress in 155 countries against the "INSPIRE" framework – a set of seven strategies for preventing and responding to violence against children.
The report signals a clear need in all countries to scale up efforts to implement them. While nearly all countries (88 percent) have key laws in place to protect children against violence, less than half of countries (47 percent) said these were being strongly enforced.
The report includes the first ever global homicide estimates specifically for children under 18 years of age – previous estimates were based on data that included 18-to 19-year-olds. It finds that in 2017, around 40,000 children were the victims of homicide.
Progress is generally uneven
Of the INSPIRE strategies, access to schools through enrollment showed the most progress – with 54 percent of countries reporting that a sufficient number of children in need were being reached in this way.
Between 32 percent to 37 percent of countries considered that victims of violence could access support services, while 26 percent of countries provided programmes on parent and caregiver support.
Meanwhile, 21 percent of countries had programmes to change harmful norms and 15 percent of countries had modifications to provide safe physical environments for children.
Although a majority of countries (83 percent) have national data on violence against children, only 21 percent used these to set baselines and national targets to prevent and respond to violence against children.
About 80 percent of countries have national plans of action and policies but only one-fifth have plans that are fully funded or have measurable targets. A lack of funding, combined with inadequate professional capacity, are likely contributing factors and a reason why implementation has been slow.
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 further 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.
Further, while online communities have become central to maintain many children's learning, support and play, an increase in harmful online behaviours including cyberbullying, risky online behaviour and sexual exploitation have been identified.
Accelerating action to protect children
WHO and its partners will continue to work with countries to fully implement the INSPIRE strategies by enhancing coordination, developing and implementing national action plans, prioritising data collection, and strengthening legislative frameworks.
Global action is needed to ensure that the necessary financial and technical support is available to all countries. Monitoring and evaluation are crucial to determine the extent to which these prevention efforts are effectively delivered to all who need them.