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Unicef Report Details Endemic Violence Against Children

UNITED NATIONS — One in 10 girls worldwide have been forced into a sexual act, and six in 10 children ages 2 to 14 are regularly beaten by parents and caregivers, according to a report issued Thursday by the United Nations’ children’s agency, Unicef.

The report, drawing on data from 190 countries, paints a picture of endemic physical and emotional violence inflicted daily on children, mostly at home and in peacetime rather than on the streets or during war. Homicide is especially common in some of the Latin American countries from which children are fleeing by the tens of thousands into the United States: It is the leading killer of adolescent boys ages 19 and under in El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela. Central and Eastern Europe report the lowest rates of homicide among children.

Over all, war accounts for a small share of violence against children. But during conflicts and other humanitarian crises, domestic violence against women and children rises measurably, according to the authors of the study.

“Most violence against children occurs at the hands of the people charged with their care or with whom they interact daily — caregivers, peers and intimate partners,” the report says.

About six in 10 children, one billion worldwide, are subjected to corporal punishment as a form of discipline by their caregivers, including parents, though the report concludes that “the most severe forms of corporal punishment — hitting a child on the head, ears or face or hitting a child hard and repeatedly — are less common over all.”

Among girls ages 15 to 19, almost one-fourth said they had been the victims of “some form of physical violence since age 15.” They said they suffered most at the hands of the men to whom they were closest. In countries as varied as India and Zambia, for instance, more than 70 percent of girls named their current or former husbands or partners as the perpetrators of physical violence against them.

There seems to be widespread social acceptance of the practice: Half of all girls ages 15 to 19 said they believed a man was sometimes justified in hitting his wife.

Likewise, girls worldwide reported being subjected to sexual violence at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends. One in 10 said they had experienced “forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.” Boys were found to have experienced sexual violence, too, but to a lesser extent. In the United States, 35 percent of girls ages 14 to 17, and 20 percent of boys in the same age range, had experienced such violence.

Separately, an advocacy group called the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict issued a report Thursday documenting the recruitment of child soldiers by the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria, and by a civil defense group formed to counter the militants.

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