Today is World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse. The day, observed every November 19, was launched in 2000 by international nonprofit and humanitarian group Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF). The objective of the day is to alert governments and civic organisations to play a more active role in the promotion of and respect for the rights of the child, especially with regards to the issue of child abuse and the need for urgent effective prevention programmes. According to the WWSF, “Child abuse, especially sexual abuse, is a universal and alarming problem and increased attention and efficient protection skills and prevention measures are necessary at family, local, national and international level. After a long tradition of silence, sexual child abuse is being more and more denounced and becoming a public and political topic.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child says that children have the right to be protected from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. In addition, the Committee on the Rights of the Child argues that countries with a low legal age of consent should raise it.
What is child abuse?
The Office of the Children’s Registry defines child abuse as “any act, or failure to act, on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation of a child. Any act, or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm to a child also counts as child abuse.”
Here are some facts and figures about child abuse, courtesy of the World Health Organization:
- Child maltreatment is the abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age. It includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Exposure to intimate partner (domestic) violence is also sometimes included as a form of child maltreatment.
- International studies reveal that a quarter of all adults report having been physically abused as children. Additionally, one in five women and one in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child.
- Every year, there are an estimated 41 000 homicide deaths in children under 15 years of age. This number underestimates the true extent of the problem, as a significant proportion of deaths due to child maltreatment are incorrectly attributed to falls, burns, drowning and other causes.
- In armed conflict and refugee settings, girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation and abuse by combatants, security forces, members of their communities, aid workers and others.
- As adults, maltreated children are at increased risk for behavioural, physical and mental health problems such as:
- perpetrating or being a victim of violence
- high-risk sexual behaviours
- unintended pregnancy
- alcohol and drug misuse