Peter Novecosky, OSB

Violence against children

ISIS is forcing Middle East Christians to convert, flee or be killed. This strategy is creating terror and havoc, not only in Iraq and Syria, but around the world. Being ruthless is part of their strategy. World leaders, civic and religious, are warning about the repercussions this will have not only locally, but also globally.

This violence is widely publicized by social media in our digital age.

However, another kind of violence — more hidden — has been unmasked. It is violence against children.

UNICEF released its first report on violence against children on Sept. 4. It’s a compilation of global statistics, patterns and attitudes that have been undocumented and underreported. The report gathers data from 190 countries. Hidden in Plain Sight reveals the shocking prevalence and acceptance of physical, emotional and sexual violence perpetuated by and against children.

About two-thirds of children worldwide between ages two and 14 (almost one billion) are physically abused on a regular basis by their caregivers, the report says. “If there is one common aspect of human society right now, it is the fact that tremendous violence is committed against children,” UNICEF’s Child Protection chief Susan Bissell said. Physical, emotional and sexual violence takes place in settings children should feel safe: their communities, schools and homes.

The most common form of violence against children is violent discipline. About one-third of adults worldwide believe physical punishment of some kind is necessary to properly raise or educate a child.

“Violence begets violence,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said. “We know a child experiencing abuse is more likely to see violence as normal, even acceptable, and more likely to perpetuate violence against his or her own children in the future.”

The effects of violence against children can last a lifetime; exposure to violence can alter a child’s brain development, damaging their physical, mental and emotional health.

The UNICEF report found 120 million girls, or about one in 10, have been forced to have sex or perform sex acts before they turn 20. One in three married adolescent girls, or about 84 million, have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners.

These are some facts about violence against children, according to news reports:

• In 2012, homicide took the lives of about 95,000 children and adolescents under the age of 20. One-fifth of homicide victims globally are children and adolescents under the age of 20. In Canada, the homicide rate is two cases per 100,000 children — half the global average.

• Around six in 10 children between the ages of two and 14 worldwide are subjected to physical punishment by caregivers on a regular basis.

• Close to one in three students between the ages of 13 and 15 report involvement in one or more physical fights in the past year.

• More than one in three students between the ages of 13 and 15 worldwide experience bullying on a regular basis.

• About one in three adolescents aged 11 to 15 in Europe and North America admit to having bullied others at school.

• Almost one-quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide report being victims of some form of physical violence.

• Around 120 million girls under the age of 20 were subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts.

• One in three adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have been the victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners.

• Close to half of all girls aged 15 to 19 think a husband is sometimes justified in hitting or beating his wife.

The report notes that 32 per cent of Canadian children were involved in bullying, as victims or bullies. “Violence against children not only threatens childhoods, it erodes our society,” said David Morley, UNICEF Canada president and CEO.

“Preventing violence is a shared responsibility, and we call for a national child-centred strategy in Canada to address violence in all its forms, especially for our most vulnerable children.”

An accompanying report, Strategies for Preventing and Responding to Violence against Children, outlines six strategies to enable society as a whole, from families to governments, to prevent and reduce violence against children:

1. Support parents, families and caregivers

2. Help children and adolescents manage risks and challenges

3. Change attitudes and social norms that encourage violence and discrimination

4. Promote and provide support services for children

5. Implement laws and policies that protect children

6. Carry out data collection and research.

The report shows the impact of violence on children has grown over the past decade. It cites a number of reasons why the phenomenon remains largely ignored.

Violence against children in some countries is socially accepted, tacitly condoned or not seen as being abusive, UNICEF said; or victims are too young or too vulnerable to report the crimes or the legal system can’t adequately respond. Child protection services are also scarce.

“While this report is the first of its kind to analyze the global statistics, we need to collectively look beyond the numbers to see the children,” said David Morley, UNICEF Canada President and CEO. “Every child who has been abused, bullied or killed was born with the right to be protected from violence. It’s in our hands to make the invisible visible and end violence.”

Any kind of violence, inside the womb or outside, should be condemned. Until there is a seamless approach to all of life, all suffer. Violence is not inevitable; it can be prevented.

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