A widespread phenomenon
Violence against children is a widespread phenomenon affecting millions of children all over the world. Whether it takes place within the family, schools, alternative care and justice institutions, the community or even within workplace environments (both those workplaces mandated under law and those which exist illegally and breach child labour and exploitation laws), it is often implicitly socially condoned and goes without legal sanctions. It takes many forms including, child sexual abuse and exploitation; child trafficking; child labour, exploitation and slavery; as well as child recruitment and exploitation by criminal and armed groups, including terrorist and violent extremist groups. In spite of its various forms and the places in which it occurs, it remains invisible, unrecorded, unprosecuted and unpunished, in every country of the world. It cuts across all cultures, class, ethnicities and religions.
Child safety and global development
It has serious implications for children's physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing and development. In fact, children may experience poor mental and physical health, poor performance in school and increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse, which will in the long term affect society's abilities to reach economic and social stability. Investment in children is key to eradicate poverty, boost shared prosperity, and enhance intergenerational equity. The link between child safety and global development, is recognized in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a pre-condition for global development. Goal 16.2, explicitly calls for the elimination of violence against children in all its forms, and highlights the crucial role played by children in the construction of peace, justice and robust institutions.
Children in contact with the justice system
When children are in contact with the law (as alleged offenders, victims and/or witnesses of crime) they can be at risk of violence within the justice system. Children may be subjected to physical, mental and sexual violence, and they may face cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment while in contact with the justice system and, especially, when they are deprived of their liberty. Experiences of violence shape the child's future relationship to the State. If a child experiences violence within the very institutions responsible for upholding justice, law and order, that child is likely to grow up with little faith, investment or respect in the State's institutions nor its representatives, and, as a consequence, their first interaction with the criminal justice system is unlikely to be their last.
Workshop on assessment of children in conflict with the law and Training of Trainers on Juvenile Justice in the Maldives... read more
A. Martins, Head of UNODC END-VAC, at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development... read more
Launch of STRIVE Juvenile in Iraq to combat terrorist and violent extremism recruitment and exploitation of children... read more
UNODC END-VAC at the OSCE-wide Counter-Terrorism Conference 2021... read moreNewsroom
Goals 5, 8, 11 and 17 of the SDGs, highlight the need for a comprehensive approach in dealing with violence against children. Sustainable development starts with safe, healthy, educated and empowered children free from violence and abuse.
Preventing and Responding to VAC
A fair, effective and efficient justice system respects the rights of victims and witnesses of crime as well as the rights of child alleged offenders. Such a system focuses on the need to prevent victimization and re-victimization of all children in contact with the justice system. However, there are numerous challenges faced by the justice system in seeking to prevent and respond to violence against children. These include, lack of knowledge of international legal standards and norms on child rights; lack of specialized legislation prohibiting violence against children in all its forms and more specifically; lack of specialized child-friendly and sensitive systems and procedures; lack of specially trained staff, such as judges, prosecutors, lawyers and other actors; and lack of engagement with other key sectors such as health, education, child protection and social welfare.
Enhancing Rehabilitation and Reintegration
These challenges are broad and can be addressed by: facilitating access to knowledge and expertise on violence against children and justice for children; and strengthening the institutions and capacities within the justice systems to effectively prevent and respond to violence against children. Moreover, in order to tackle the very complex and multifaceted phenomenon of violence against children, it is essential for the justice system to engage and coordinate efforts with a variety of actors and institutions, from different systems to ensure that children in contact with the law are given the necessary support needed with a view to promoting their rehabilitation and reintegration.
Benchmark for Action
International law obliges States to protect children from violence, abuse and neglect and uphold their rights to ensure that they are able to become such empowered, successful, law-abiding citizens able to assume constructive roles in society (see the International Legal Framework: A Benchmark for Action) In this regard, UNODC has the specific mandate to support Member States in ensuring that children are better served and protected by justice systems and under the Global Programme to End Violence Against Children, it has been playing a crucial role in assisting States in preventing and responding to violence against children (learn how by clicking on Programme Details).