(Geneva) -- Violence against children is a bigger problem than governments acknowledge, and in fact is often carried out by officials of the state, Human Rights Watch charged in a new study released today.

Human Rights Watch called on governments to take stronger measures to protect children from abuse and urged the United Nations to undertake an international study of violence against children. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child is meeting today in Geneva for a special day of discussion devoted to violence against children.

"Children are at risk of violence in nearly every aspect of their lives-in their schools, on the street, at work, in institutions, and in areas of armed conflict," said Jo Becker, Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch. "They are beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered, often by the very individuals responsible for their care and safety."

The study draws on investigations in twenty countries, which included hundreds of interviews with children subjected to violence or abuse. It found that in many cases, abuses are perpetrated by individuals in government employ, or occur in institutions-such as schools or orphanages-under the direct control of government.

"Children are frequently victimized twice. First by the violence they endure, and then again by the failure of governments to bring their abusers to justice," said Becker. "Governments must start taking this phenomenon seriously."

Human Rights Watch found that in countries including Bulgaria, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Pakistan, and Russia, children frequently experience violence at the hands of police and other law enforcement officials. Children are often detained by police without sufficient cause, and then subjected to brutal interrogations and torture in order to elicit confessions or information. Street children are especially easy targets. They are beaten by police in order to extort money, and street girls may be forced to provide sex to avoid arrest or to be released from police custody. In Kenya, Guatemala and India, street children have been killed in extrajudicial executions.

Once placed in juvenile and criminal correctional institutions, children are frequently mistreated and abused, enduring severe corporal punishment, torture, forced labor, isolation, restraints, sexual assaults, and harassment. In many countries, including the United States, children may be detained with adults, leaving them at increased risk of physical and sexual abuse.

In schools, intended to nurture the development of children, violence may be a regular part of a child's experience. In many countries, corporal punishment is still permitted as part of school "discipline." Human Rights Watch investigations in Kenya found that children were subjected to caning, slapping, and whipping that resulted in bruises, cuts, and humiliation, and in some cases serious injury or death. In South Africa, Human Rights Watch found that girls were at particular risk of sexual violence from both teachers and male students, and may be verbally degraded, fondled, assaulted and raped. Students may also be targeted because of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, caste, sexual orientation, social group, or other status. In the United States, students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender have been beaten, kicked, spit on, cut with knives, strangled, thrown against lockers, and dragged down flights of stairs.

Child laborers often endure long hours and grueling labor under difficult and harmful circumstances. In India and Egypt, Human Rights Watch found that child laborers were often beaten for working too slowly, making mistakes, or simply as a means of intimidation.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children who have been orphaned or abandoned are placed in orphanages and other non-penal institutions. Dependent on the state for care, many instead experience shocking and sometimes deadly levels of abuse and neglect. Human Rights Watch found that in Russia, children were beaten, sexually abused, restrained in cloth sacks or tethered to furniture, and subjected to degrading treatment by staff.

In armed conflict situations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and, Sierra Leone, children are killed, maimed, raped, and tortured. Hundreds of thousands of children recruited as soldiers risk injury, disability and death in combat, as well as physical and sexual abuse by their fellow soldiers and commanders. Children who have fled war zones as refugees are also at risk. In Guinea and Tanzania, Human Rights Watch found refugee children vulnerable to physical abuse, sexual violence, and cross-border attacks.

Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations to conduct an international study on violence against children and present a clear action plan to eliminate violence against children. It also urged all governments to ensure that all forms of violence against children are prohibited by law, and that abuses against children are vigorously investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.