By Juliette Terzieff
In response to widespread, persistent violence against the world’s children, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and the Inter-Parliamentary Union released a handbook on May 2nd for legislators around the globe to aid them in the creation of strategies to protect children.
“The best way to deal with violence against children is to stop it before it occurs. Parliamentarians can and should be among the foremost champions of children protection,” UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Toshi Nawa said upon the handbook’s release at the IPU’s 116th assembly in Indonesia. Delegates from 126 countries were in attendance.
“Governments and parliaments must build a protective environment that allows children to live without the threat of abuse and exploitation,” Nawa insisted.
The handbook, “Eliminating Violence Against Children,” covers a wide range of topics beginning with a look at the global scope of the problem and international instruments providing for child protection. It then analyzes ways for parliamentarians to assess the situation in their own countries, introduce legislation, and allocate public funds for initiatives designed to protect children.
“Bottom line is parliamentarians are busy, dealing with a lot of issues, and the handbook was immediately well received by them as a way to act, knowledgably and quickly,” explains Pamela Shifman, a UNICEF project officer who attended the Indonesia launch.
Overall, the 84-page handbook aims to ensure follow-up on recommendations made in the United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children released in October 2006.
The secretary-general’s report looked at mental and physical abuse at home, in educational settings, at workplaces, in the community and in other institutions such as orphanages, and found “in every region, in stark contradiction to every State’s human rights obligation and children’s developmental needs, much violence remains legal, State-authorized and socially acceptable.”
Infanticide, neglect and abandonment, sexual abuse, economic exploitation and harsh physical punishment are among the gamut of abuses faced by the world’s children. Sadly, they are most vulnerable to abuse in the home, by assigned caregivers and in common institutions like schools.
An estimated 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence, according to the World Health Organization. The International Labour Organization estimates 218 million children around the world were working as of 2004, with 126 million engaged in hazardous labor.
Regional particularities also exist, exacerbating the already substantial list of worldwide problems.
In West and Central Africa, children suffering from, or orphaned by, HIV/AIDS are extremely vulnerable, as are youngsters in communities that practice genital mutilation or are caught up in armed conflicts. In Latin America, Europe and Central Asia children are vulnerable to human traffickers, extrajudicial killings and homicide.
In the U.S. alone, costs associated with abuse and neglect were estimated in 2001 to be $94 billion.
UNICEF has allocated more than $240 million over the past two years to its programs on child protection to develop sufficient legal framework and increase government and community capacities to protect and aid vulnerable children. UNICEF has supported trainings for police, teachers and other adults who are in contact with children and may be in the position to identify instances of abuse.
“Freedom from violence will only be possible if we parliamentarians respect our duties to children and act upon them. We have the power to legislate, to oversee proper enforcement of laws, to allocate financial resources and to mobilize public opinion,” the IPU President Pier Ferdinando Casini opines on the handbook’s first pages.
Violence against children, Casini believes, perpetuates poverty, illiteracy and early mortality and “robs society of its potential for development.”