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Violence: A Billion Lives Ripped Apart

Almost every parent’s wish is to see his or her child grow up happily, with opportunities to go to school and play without having to worry about being harmed. Violence may seem to be irrelevant to children, yet nothing could be further from the truth than this. Each year, violence invades the lives of over 1 billion children, robbing them of their dignity, rights, potential and future. Threatening their lives, health and education opportunities, violence is the biggest issue affecting children around the world today.

Rights to which children are entitled

Children need to learn discipline and how to take care of themselves from adults in order to grow. Universal Children’s Day is celebrated on 20 November each year to commemorate the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989. The Convention outlines the rights that a child is entitled to, including rights to life, health, education and entertainment, as well as rights to family life. Children should be protected from violence and discrimination, while having the right to express their own views. Over 190 countries are parties of the Convention, making it the most recognised international treaty in history. Without a doubt, families, societies and states all share an undeniable responsibility for the well-being of children.

According to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, all children should be protected from all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation. In the context of armed conflicts or judicial proceedings, children should receive the greatest protection. They are also entitled to freedom of expression and should enjoy social, economic, cultural and religious rights. However, instead of stepping up the efforts in administration and the distribution of resources to allow children to enjoy these deserved rights, the world has largely ignored their voices and rights. This is a worrying phenomenon, which is highlighted by the fact that the number of children experiencing violence has exceeded half the world’s child population.

Causes of Violence against Children

Every child, in every setting, in every country, is vulnerable to violence. The most susceptible and least protected people are often children fleeing conflict, children living in extreme poverty, and girls.

  • Conflict weakens critical support systems and is detrimental to children’s well-being. Children affected by conflict, violence and natural disasters are especially vulnerable to risks, such as separation from families, military conscription, child labour, trafficking, physical or sexual abuse, child marriage, injury and death.
  • Poverty often forces families to make difficult decisions such as whether to send a child to work or marry off a child early to support the family.
  • Anyone, regardless of gender and age, can be affected by sexual and gender-based violence during conflict. But violence against women and girls is all too common in our world. Violence can take many forms: domestic abuse, trafficking, rape or harmful practices such as early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). They can take place anywhere but are more regular in emergency or conflict situations.

Realities of violence against children

Each year, over half the world’s children, that is 1 billion, aged between 2 and 17 years, experience some form of violence.

Fleeing from conflict (Syria)

Mohammed, who fled to Jordan from Syria, shares, “My biggest dream is to be a journalist. I've actually started a magazine inside the camp with some of my friends. I want to write about things that are important and actually matter, because there are a lot of children who are afraid to speak up.”

“It (life in Syria) was a beautiful life. I had all my family. We had a backyard, trees and fruit growing … everything we needed. I suppose you don’t realise what you have until you don’t have it anymore.”

28 million children, across the globe, have been forcibly displaced across or within borders because of violence and conflict.


Becoming child labourers (Bangladesh)

Babu (11) and Sabbir (7) are brothers who spend their days carrying people’s packages and bags in a port in southwestern Bangladesh. It’s tough work carrying heavy items that often weigh as much as they do. They work 13 hour days and if it’s too dark by the time they’ve earned enough money for the day, instead of crossing the river to return home, they sleep on buses that are parked off for the day. Yet this is dangerous, as people can break in and rob, hurt or abuse them.

Globally, there are approximately 168 million child labourers of which 85 million are involved in hazardous work.


Deprived of education (Burundi)

Yvette and her mother come from a pot-making community. “My grandmother taught my mom to do this, now she’s teaching me so I can earn a living someday,” says Yvette. “But I just want to be in school, like the other kids.” Yvette’s mother is eager to send her to school too, yet she cannot afford it. Every morning, they walk pass green fields to the pits to dig clay, then pound it into big round balls to carry home and make pots. It is Yvette’s job to sell them, but people are not willing to buy fragile clay products anymore. In addition to not being able to go to school, Yvette often goes to bed hungry.


Constantly hungry (Zambia)

Miyoba, 8, often cries after dinner because she is still hungry. Her grandparents, now in their 70s, are taking care of 7 grandchildren, as some of their children have died and others have no means to care for their children. The family has faced hunger many times. Sometimes, Grandfather John would notice that the children would just stop playing and sit down. He would then know that they were hungry.


Almost trafficked (India)

7-year-old Disha went missing a year ago.

"I remember that day clearly. The school informed me that Disha hadn’t reached," recalls Disha’s father. "She was nowhere to be found." A child protection worker posted a picture of Disha on Facebook and urged others to help find her by sharing the post. A police constable stumbled upon the Facebook post and later happened to catch a glimpse of a girl who matched the description, in the company of a man. As he approached the two, the man left the girl and ran. After 13 gruelling hours, Disha finally was reunited with her parents. Yet, it is still difficult for her to forget this terrifying experience.

Children make up 28% of all detected trafficking victims.


Trapped by child marriage (Bangladesh)

Saira was married off at the age of 13, having only completed Grade 3. "I used to go to school … but I had to leave because my brothers were young and my family needed someone to support my father with an income for the house," says Saira. Her parents then decided to marry her off. "I was scared of marriage as I was too young but I had to listen to my parents, it was their decision. Getting married seemed the safest option to protect myself from being assaulted," says Saira. Now 15, she is unable to go to school anymore as she spends most of the day on household chores and taking care of her 10-month-old child, which is all too much for her.

About 1 in 7 adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide is currently married or in union. Currently, more than 700 million women married before their 18th birthday.


Forced to take part in sex work (The Philippines)

Just like any girl, Danica had a dream. She did not plan on becoming a child victim of trafficking at the age of 12. Now 16, she has just given birth to a baby girl.

At least 1 in 10 girls has been subjected to forced sexual acts before age 20.

Annually, violence against children costs up to US$7 trillion, which is about 8% of the global GDP.

Effects of violence on children

Violence against children affects their social, emotional, mental and physical development, and has far-reaching consequences for their future and community. Violence during childhood can permanently shape the development of a child’s brain and immune system, leading to poor health over the course of his or her lifetime and a shorter lifespan. Children who are exposed to violence as a victim or as a witness are more likely to become victims or perpetrators later in life. The cost of inaction is high.

The effects of violence on girls tend to be more profound and lasting. A survivor’s life may be changed by the damage done to her reproductive system as well as her psychological and physical well-being. Children forced to work or marry early are deprived of their rights to learn, develop and acquire personal values. During conflicts, children are forced to take up arms and fight in adult wars. This not only puts their health and lives at risk, but also sacrifices their childhood. The repercussions of violence reach families, communities and nations.

Aspirations for children

Children’s rights of being cared for, protected and participating make up World Vision’s 4th Child Well-being Aspiration, with the outcome of providing a safe environment for children to grow with dignity. In communities where World Vision works, we help strengthen local and national child protection systems in contextually-appropriate ways so that governments, civil society, faith-based groups, community stakeholders and children are empowered and coordinated to work together to create an environment that protects children from violence. Awareness and actions of all parties can prevent violence from occurring, improve response to current problems, protect children and help those who have been affected by violence enjoy their rights. Our work in this area includes:
  • Establishing a children’s club, a youth club and a girls group to empower children to speak for themselves and influence local stakeholders to implement necessary policy changes
  • Facilitating advocacy of child protection issues, such as domestic violence and child marriage
  • Implementing livelihood projects to help impoverished families increase their income so children can go to school instead of work
  • Setting up Child Friendly Spaces in disaster, conflict and fragile communities to ensure safe space for children
  • Providing parents and caregivers training on parenting skills to improve child well-being
  • Supporting street children centres to provide street children with education and care

It Takes a World to End Violence Against Children

To further address the problem of violence, World Vision has launched the “It Takes a World to End Violence Against Children” campaign in many places where we work, including one in Hong Kong which was officially launched on Universal Children’s Day (20 November) this year. The goal is to encourage the public to join hands in keeping children safe from harm. We believe that no one person, group or organisation can solve this problem alone. Instead, we must all come together to protect children against violence. We also invited 8 Hong Kong children to take part in a poverty simulation. By giving them a taste of life as children living in poverty, we hope they would become aware of the various forms of violence children across world experience, every day. By doing this, we also hope to bring the issue closer to you and empower you to take action.

Please refer to our website for more details.

We look forward to the day when no child will have his or her childhood ravaged by violence, and every child can live a life of abundance.

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