According to the Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children 2020, each year, half of the world’s children (approximately one billion) are affected by physical, sexual or psychological violence, suffering injuries, disabilities and death. The report was published in June this year by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UNESCO, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence against Children and the End Violence Partnership. It charts progress in 155 countries, including Bangladesh, against the INSPIRE framework (a set of seven strategies for preventing and responding to violence against children).
This is the first time ever that governments have self-reported on their work to address violence against children. While there are some methodological concerns, the report provides a good overview of the progress that countries have made in implementing interventions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets on ending violence against children, and makes recommendations for the future.
Violence is a serious violation of children’s rights, which affects their health, education and development. This also has serious economic impacts. According to an estimate, violence against children results in a GDP loss of USD one trillion every year. The report suggests that while nearly all countries (88 percent) have key laws in place to protect children against violence, less than half of countries (47 percent) said these were being strongly enforced.
In Bangladesh, there is a culture of impunity. Perpetrators of violence against children are hardly brought to justice, which contributes to continuing violence. In the past month alone, 89 percent of children (1-14 years) in Bangladesh experienced violent discipline. Due to my work on protecting children from violence, I am painfully aware of how socially acceptable the practice of corporal punishment is. In addition to physical and mental violence, children of our country are subjected to rape, torture, child marriage, trafficking, abduction etc.
A lack of proper coordination across departments that are responsible for children, health, education, social work etc. makes it challenging to address violence against children in a holistic way in Bangladesh. This is combined with inadequate professional capacity and limited budgetary allocations. Shouldn’t we do more and be better at ending violence against children?
Between 32 percent to 37 percent of countries considered that victims of violence could access support services. Bangladesh has also responded positively. However, the “perceived reach” is quite low; 26 percent of countries provide programmes on parent and caregiver support and 15 percent of countries had modifications to provide safe physical environments for children. Bangladesh does not have interventions in these areas.
The report has been published at a time when most countries are struggling to cope with Covid-19. This global pandemic is primarily a public health emergency, but it has a lot of secondary impacts on children’s education, health and protection, in the short and long run. Due to prolonged school closures, restrictions in movement and social isolation, children have lost their regular lives and support networks. Unequal gender relations and patriarchal norms are important causes of violence against women and children, and these get magnified during a humanitarian crisis, making them more vulnerable.
From media compilation reports by various child and women’s rights organisations and networks in Bangladesh, we have seen an increase in domestic abuse, violence against children, rapes, child marriage, cyber-crimes, trafficking etc during Covid-19. This must be considered while we respond to the crisis.
The report highlights that countries have mechanisms to support national violence prevention work. But only one-fifth of the countries have fully funded national action plans or plans that include specified indicators on the prevalence of violence against children with baseline and target values. Decision-makers in every country accept the need to scale up their efforts.
Isn’t it tragic that violence against children continues to shatter children’s lives even when we know what works in preventing it? The report suggests that drastic effort is needed to scale up our collective support for evidence-based prevention efforts if we are to end all forms of violence against children by 2030. I believe strong political commitment is required to make this happen.
The report makes a number of recommendations. Some are worth highlighting for Bangladesh. An appropriately resourced agency should be mandated to coordinate multisectoral action to end violence against children. Countries should prioritise data collection on key violence-related indicators as part of regular SDG reporting and use these to set measurable targets in data-driven national plans. Governments should ensure a renewed commitment to the implementation and enforcement of laws. Funding for evidence-based approaches to ending violence against children must be increased and be embedded in medium-term expenditure frameworks in national and sub-national levels. All these recommendations can be implemented if we make ending violence against children a priority.
Violence against children risks efforts to achieve SDGs. Let us be committed to create a society where all children can be free from violence and realise their potential. There is a need to establish a functional and well-funded child protection system (mandated by the Children Act 2013 of Bangladesh) at all levels to protect all children from all forms of violence. The government should lead the process and parent/caregivers, teachers, community members, health professionals, social workers, civil society, media, academia etc will have to play their roles to prevent and respond to violence against children. It is very important to change social norms and learn to treat children with respect and dignity. A social movement is required to stop tolerating violence against children.
One of the recommendations of the report asks governments to initiate policy dialogues to review the status of their violence against children prevention programmes with relevant stakeholders from government, NGOs and international partners. They are encouraged to use the country profiles and national recommendations included in the report as starting points. Will there be a policy dialogue in Bangladesh to rigorously review where we are and identify what more needs to be done to bring momentum to end violence against children?