Scores of millions of children worldwide are subject to trafficking, sexual abuse or child labour, lack parental care or documents needed to access schools and health care, or face violence in their homes, schools or communities, according to a new United Nations report released today.
“A society cannot thrive if its youngest members are forced into early marriage, abused as sex workers or denied their basic rights,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in Tokyo on the release of the report, which calls for improving child protection systems and promoting social change.
“Understanding the extent of abuses of children’s rights is a first step to building an environment where children are protected and have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” she added of the report which covers issues ranging from sexual abuse and child marriage to physical punishment and genital mutilation.
While progress is being made in reducing some violations of children’s rights, not enough is yet known about the extent of abuses against children and violence and exploitation remain a harsh reality, according to the report, Progress for Children: A Report Card on Child Protection.
Some abuses, such as sexual exploitation and trafficking, are usually committed in conditions of secrecy and illegality, which makes collection of accurate data challenging. Child labour reaps a particularly heavy toll with 150 million youngsters aged between five and 14 in the work force.
The report gathers together for the first time data on a range of issues, including sexual abuse and trafficking, child marriage, physical punishment of children, child labour, birth registration, the harmful traditional practice of female genital cutting, and attitudes toward violence against women inside marriage.
Where data are available, some progress is evident. For example, in Bangladesh, Guinea and Nepal, where child marriage is prevalent, the median age of marriage is rising, although it is still below 18. The report also cites a slow decline in female genital mutilation in countries where such abuse is common.
It finds that more than half the children in detention worldwide have not been tried or sentenced, while in some regions, the births of two out of three children were not registered in 2007, with less than 5 per cent of births registered in Somalia and Liberia. Without a birth certificate youngsters are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, trafficking and illegal adoption.
Another finding shows that more than half of women and girls in developing countries think that wife-beating is acceptable and, younger women are as likely to justify wife-beating as older women. In most regions, neglecting the children is the most commonly cited justification for wife-beating.
“The evidence of continuing harm and abuse must inspire the world to greater effort to guarantee the rights of all children, everywhere,” Ms. Veneman said.