Children's Rights

Easy Targets: Violence Against Children Worldwide

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Unconscionable violence is perpetuated against children in every part of the world. Children are at risk of life-threatening abuses on the streets, in schools, where they work, and in institutions. In too many cases, children are betrayed by the very individuals responsible for their protection and well being: their teachers, their employers, their guardians, the police and members of the armed forces.

The shocking scale of violence against children demonstrates the obvious failure of many governments to fulfill their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since 1990, nearly every government in the world has ratified the convention, which requires government action to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence. The brutality that many children endure raises grave questions as to whether these government commitments were genuine or simply a matter of political expediency. Not only is violence against children pervasive in all regions of the world, but as illustrated throughout this report, abuses are frequently perpetrated by individuals in government employ, or occur in institutions under the direct control of government.

Violence against children is inexcusable, and it will not end without effective action by the state. States must ensure that violence against children, including corporal punishment, is prohibited by law and such laws strictly enforced. Individuals who have contact with children must be trained in the law and the rights of children. Children and their families must have access to effective mechanisms to file complaints of abuse. Perhaps most significantly, states must address impunity by vigorously investigating reports of violence and ensuring that perpetrators are appropriately punished.

Civil society groups are working to eliminate violence against children in all its terrible forms in virtually all the countries included in this report. Violence against children—including torture, beatings, sexual violence and murder—is so horrific that even concerned individuals may be tempted to assume it is a distant phenomenon and tuck the issue away for lack of immediacy. These accounts, however, demonstrate how widespread this deadly epidemic is and how close to home. It is our hope that this report will prompt governments to action and individuals to support efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence against children.

Detailed Recommendations Regarding Violence Against Children

These recommendations supplement those made in the summary and recommendations section of this report.

Recommendations to national governments regarding treatment in detention facilities:

  • Investigate violence against children in both correctional and detention facilities; protect children from such violence, and bring those responsible to justice.

  • Institute training programs for judges, police, and staff of correctional and other institutions in handling and treating children, and in the basic human rights to which children are entitled.

  • Ensure that children have knowledge and understanding of their basic human rights.

  • Establish effective and confidential complaint mechanisms in state institutions, with the authority to initiate and conduct investigations. Such mechanisms should be directly accessible to children, and its actions subject to review by outside authorities, including NGOs.

  • Ensure that children are not held with adults in detention or correctional facilities, where they are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

Recommendations to national governments regarding police violence against street children:

  • Investigate police violence against street children, protect children from such violence, and discipline appropriately those responsible.

  • Investigate police round-ups of children, in which children are detained arbitrarily and often abused physically and sexually.

  • Ensure that police officers who are specially trained in children’s rights and in working with children are delegated the responsibility of handling all police work in involving children. Female police officers should be recruited, with the goal of reducing and eliminating sexual violence by police against street girls.

  • Institute education campaigns to ensure that street children know and understand their basic human rights.

Recommendations to national governments regarding corporal punishment in schools:

  • Adopt or amend legislation as necessary to abolish the use of corporal punishment in the schools, both public and private.
  • Support programs that educate parents, teachers, school inspectors, and society at large about the harm of corporal punishment and the existence of effective alternatives.
  • Ensure that all teachers are trained in methods of disciplining students that are not physically abusive.
  • Ensure that teacher’s training colleges include instruction on classroom management techniques and the harm of corporal punishment. Make instruction on alternatives to physical means of discipline a mandatory and significant part of the curriculum.
  • Ensure that school inspectors are trained to investigate issues of violence against children as a regular part of their responsibilities.
  • Establish an independent complaints board charged with investigating individual complaints and press and other reports of corporal punishment. Create an ombudsperson to facilitate the lodging of such claims by parents and children.
  • Investigate thoroughly every incident of corporal punishment reported by parents, children, teachers, the media or other sources, and take appropriate and immediate disciplinary action against accused teachers found to have physically abused students, including counseling, probation, suspension, or termination.

Recommendations to national governments regarding sexual violence in schools:

  • Prohibit sexual violence, harassment, and other sexual misconduct in schools.
  • Take appropriate legal action against teachers who sexually assault or rape students, and ensure that individuals who have been convicted of sexual assault or rape are not permitted to teach in the school system.
  • Provide for compulsory education and training for pupils, teachers, school inspectors, and principals on issues related to sexual violence and harassment and gender discrimination, including methods for the early identification of, and intervention to prevent, abusive behavior.
  • Provide for pupils facing allegations of sexual assault or rape to receive guidance and counseling and to face disciplinary or judicial action as appropriate if the allegations are sustained.  Such action should have rehabilitation as a central aim and should ensure that children are dealt with in a manner that is appropriate to their well-being, proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence, and consistent with their right to education. 

Recommendations to national governments regarding harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students:

  • Enact legislation to protect students from harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Ensure that schools comply with the principle of nondiscrimination and include sexual orientation and gender identity in any data collection tools measuring discrimination in education.
  • Ensure that teacher education programs include mandatory training on working with students of diverse backgrounds, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and those who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Enact legislation to protect administrators, teachers, and other school staff, and all other employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Recommendations to national governments regarding violence against children in the workplace:

  • Ratify and implement International Labor Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.
  • Ensure that children who flee abusive employers receive appropriate assistance, including medical care, counseling, education, and reunification with their families.
  • Investigate the abuse of children by employers, and prosecute such employers as appropriate.

Recommendations to national governments regarding care in orphanages:

  • Ensure that children held in orphanages or other non-correctional custodial facilities are not subjected to physical or psychological abuse or corporal punishment of any kind.

  • Investigate incidents of abuse of children and bring to justice staff members found guilty of such abuse.

  • Appoint an independent commission, including experts from the fields of pediatrics, psychology, neurology, and early childhood education, vested with full authority to conduct unannounced visits to institutions and to order sanctions for violations of children’s rights.

  • Establish effective and confidential complaint procedures for children and their families; ensure that complaints are investigated by an independent outside authority.

  • Ensure that staff members receive training in handling and treating children and in the basic human rights to which children are entitled.

  • Ensure that children are placed in institutions only where there is no reasonable alternative; urge states to remove from institutions abandoned children and children with disabilities wherever possible; reallocate resources devoted to institutional care to develop alternative humane, non-discriminatory care.

Recommendations to national governments regarding children and armed conflict:

  • Protect children in armed conflict situations and strictly adhere to the provisions of international humanitarian law.

  • Protect children from any recruitment as soldiers and ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, depositing a binding declaration establishing a minimum age of at least eighteen for voluntary recruitment into national armed forces.

  • Ensure that refugee camps are located in secure, accessible areas, to protect children from cross-border attacks and possible recruitment and use by armed groups.

  • Implement programs and policies necessary to effectively protect and promote the rights of refugee children, including training for those who work with children in the special protection needs of children.

  • Ensure that police investigate incidents of sexual violence against refugee children and are given sufficient guidance and training on steps they much follow in the collection of evidence in rape and domestic violence cases.

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