European Region on track to ending violence against children, but greater commitment and more action still needed

WHO/Malin Bring

A new WHO progress report on preventing child maltreatment suggests that the WHO European Region is on track to achieve a 20% reduction by 2020. The projections are based on homicide trend data, which is used as one of the baselines to assess progress. The report estimates that 629 homicides of children younger than 15 years took place in the Region in 2015, which is an improvement from the previous estimate established in 2014.

However, child homicides represent a very small proportion of child maltreatment because for every death there are thousands of child protection referrals and hospital admissions. Furthermore, it is estimated that for every case brought to the attention of child protection agencies, 100 go undetected. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target 16.2 to end all violence against children by 2030, greater commitment and explicit action are needed from countries. The progress shown in the report should provide impetus for different sectors to work together.

The “European status report on preventing child maltreatment” is a midpoint evaluation of countries’ commitment to child maltreatment prevention. In 2014, WHO developed the European Child Maltreatment Prevention Action Plan 2015–2020, which was adopted by all 53 European Member States at the 64th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe. This report describes the substantial progress made and the problem areas in the implementation of prevention programmes.

The report suggests that although child maltreatment is certainly more visible, countries need to match interest in the Action Plan with far greater engagement. To achieve the target of 20% reduction in child homicides and maltreatment by 2020, more countries need to undertake periodic surveys, implement prevention programmes and properly fund intersectoral action plans. The report notes that while 3 out of 4 countries have national action plans for child maltreatment prevention, only 1 in 3 are fully funded. Similarly, despite evidence of changing attitudes towards the use of violence by parents and caregivers, only 6 out of 10 countries have comprehensive laws banning physical punishment in all settings, including the home.

The full update will be presented by the WHO Regional Director for Europe at the 68th session of the Regional Committee in Rome, Italy on 20 September 2018, and an analysis of the report and its findings will be published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.