Violence is at the core of the harsh reality faced by the most deprived children all over the world. Violence can drive children into a status of marginalisation and the most marginalised children are at higher risk of violence. This creates a devastating combination of causes and effects, locking these children into a vicious circle of violence. We know that violence has a direct, negative impact on children’s learning, health and nutrition and to their overall quality of life. But we also know that with the right interventions, the vicious cycle can be broken.
Violence pushed Giselle*, 13, and her family to try to migrate from their home country Honduras to the US. Giselle had been bullied at school by two gang members’ girlfriends who eventually forced her into an empty building at gunpoint, where Giselle was raped by gang members. She became pregnant but lost the baby prematurely. The family tried to flee but were returned and still live in fear that the gang will find them. Giselle stopped going to school.
Hurriyah* is 12 and fled Syria because of the war. She now lives in Lebanon and attends school but her vulnerable situation has led her father to become increasingly strict on her movements and dress. A 17-year-old boy from the neighbourhood has started harassing Hurriyah, following her to and from school. Her father says that he will arrange for her to marry imminently, as he sees no other way to protect her.
These examples show that violence at societal levels such as armed conflicts or violence linked to organized crime, are forceful drivers of migration. They also show that being a girl can be dangerous. Twenty percent of women worldwide have suffered sexual abuse as children and every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.[i] Gender norms and gender inequality drive violence against girls, including female infanticide, neglect, female genital mutilation, honour killings and early marriage,[ii] with consequences such as early or unwanted pregnancy, childbirth complications and maternal mortality.[iii]
Other forms of exclusion also attract violence. Children with disabilities are three to four times more likely than non-disabled children to be victims of any sort of violence.[iv] Children living on the street face high risk of violence from members of the general public and police. Children from minority ethnic groups and low caste groups face increased violence in communities and schools.[v] Those are just a few examples.
Violence within the family is a reason for some children to run away from home and living on the streets, joining a gang or armed group or migrating within or outside of the country. This in turn increases risks of trafficking and exposure to transactional sex and decreases children’s opportunities to access education, health and protection services.[vi]
But we know that violence is preventable and that gender norms can be changed. Our programmes have contributed to changing attitudes and providing support to parents, communities and children to protect girls like Hurriyah from sexual harassment on her way to school and seek help. We work in schools and homes to support parents, teachers and caregivers on how to raise and teach children without using violent discipline. And we help children like Giselle accessing specialised services to deal with horrific experiences of rape, seek justice and find positive ways forward in life. We also advocate for laws that protect children, for services that are fully funded and for a trained social workforce.
Our Every Last Child campaign is calling for three guarantees for the most excluded children: fair finance, equal treatment and accountability to children. Considering the role that violence plays in the lives of the most excluded children, it is critical that these guarantees fully address it, by for example:
Fair finance – Governments need to invest better and more funding to services that prevent and respond to violence against children and in strengthening systems that reach every last child.
Equal treatment – Laws and policies must prohibit all forms of violence against children, including physical and humiliating punishment and sexual violence. Attitudes and behaviours that condone or justify violence against children need to be changed.
Accountability to children – Empowering girls and boys with knowledge, skills, and confidence to express their views and participate in decisions affecting them, including access to information about child rights, sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, and child protection.
A child who lives free from violence will have higher chances to do better in school, grow up healthy and become a successful member of the society. This is even more so for every last child.
[i] United Nations Children’s Fund, A Statistical Snapshot of Violence against Adolescent Girls, UNICEF, New York, 2014.
[ii] United Nations Population Fund, 2012
[iii] Hervish & Feldman-Jacobs, 2011
[iv] OSRSG-VAC, 2013; WHO 2012
[v] Family for Every Child, 2013; Pinheiro, 2006
[vi] Consortium of Street Children and Plan, 2011; Every Child et al., 2010; Greenbaum, 2014; OSRSG-VAC, 2013; OHCHR, 2012; WHO, 2015
* name changed to protect identity