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Six in 10 children face regular physical assault, report warns

Young people aged between two and 14 experience frequent violence, according to global study published by Unicef

Six out of 10 children between the ages of two and 14 are regularly subject to physical assaults, according to a report that shows violence against children remains largely under-reported and undocumented.

A report published by the UN children’s agency, Unicef, on Thursday, shows that almost a quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide (almost 70 million) reported being victims of some form of physical violence, and around 120 million girls under the age of 20 have been raped or experienced some form of sexual assault. Boys were also found to be at risk, although a global estimate is unavailable due to the lack of comparable data in most countries.

The Unicef report, Hidden in plain sight (pdf), is the largest compilation of data on the violation of children, showing the extent of rape, child homicides, domestic violence and bullying in 190 countries.

It shows children were more likely to suffer from violence in the home than anywhere else, with physical discipline from parents and caregivers the most common form of abuse.

The most severe forms of physical punishment – characterised by hitting the child on the head, ears or face, or hitting the child hard and repeatedly – were most common in Yemen, Egypt, Chad, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Vanuatu.

The report paid particular attention to attitudes towards violence, showing children are often unaware they are victims of abuse. The report found that among girls aged 15 to 19 who had been victims of physical or sexual violence, about seven in 10 had never sought help. Reasons given included not realising their abuse was a form of violence, or not recognising the abuse as a problem.

The global snapshot also found that close to half of all girls between 15 and 19 believed a husband was justified in hitting his wife under certain circumstances, including if the wife argued with her husband, left the home without telling him, refused sexual relations or burned his food. Around 80% or more girls in Afghanistan, Guinea, Jordan, Mali and Timor-Leste believed domestic violence was acceptable. In most countries, girls were more likely than boys to justify it.

Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said the data showed a failure to address public perceptions of violence. “These are uncomfortable facts – no government or parent will want to see them,” he said. “But unless we confront the reality each infuriating statistic represents – the life of a child whose right to a safe, protected childhood has been violated – we will never change the mindset that violence against children is normal and permissible.”

The report also highlighted the prevalence of homicide among children and adolescents, showing almost one in five victims of homicide worldwide were children. Latin America and the Caribbean had the largest share of homicide victims under 20 years old, with El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela experiencing the highest rates. In each of these countries, homicide is the leading cause of death for adolescent boys.

The report suggested strategies for reducing violence against children, including providing parents with childrearing strategies and techniques, strengthening judicial, criminal and social services, and improving data collection and research to guide policy responses.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the convention on the rights of the child, which all UN member states except for the US and Somalia have ratified. The UK ratified the convention in 1990 and it came into force in the UK in 1992.

Friday 5 September 2014 07.54 EDT