Violence against children: tackling hidden abuse

WHO/Malin Bring

Each year, at least 55 million children experience some form of violence in the WHO European Region, including physical, sexual, emotional and psychological violence. Despite the magnitude of this figure, it is well established that incidents of interpersonal violence are widely underreported.

WHO/Europe, with support from Nordic Cooperation and the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, will convene a workshop in Tallinn, Estonia, on 14–15 January 2020 to review progress and share guidance on addressing this hidden social problem. The Estonian Government will host the workshop.

Bringing together technical experts with policy-makers in health, social affairs, education and justice as well as parliamentarians, the workshop will share guidance and good practices linked to the implementation of WHO’s INSPIRE technical package, which sets out 7 strategies for ending violence against children.

Emotional and financial costs

Accounting for the underreporting of abuse, it is estimated that of the 204 million children under the age of 18 in the WHO European Region, 9.6% experience sexual abuse, 22.9% experience physical abuse and 29.1% experience emotional abuse. Furthermore, 700 children in the Region are murdered every year.

The cost of violence against children adds up. An estimated US$ 581 billion is spent treating those hurt by violence annually. But the financial cost pales in comparison to the toll on individuals’ health.

It is clear from studies that children who experience violence are at higher risk for mental illness, drug use, alcohol use and obesity, but also for chronic disease later in life.

“Violence against children is chilling and distressing,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, WHO/Europe’s Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Promoting Health through the Life-course. “Child trauma has a terrible cost, not only to the children and the adults they become, whose lives it wrecks, but to every country’s well-being and economy. With political will, we can all tackle this. Every sector and part of the community can make a difference in making society safer for children. But we need to speed up.”

INSPIRE progress

Overall, the political will to combat violence against children is on the rise: 66% of countries in Region have prohibited corporal punishment in all settings. However, passing laws is only part of the solution. In recent years, 83% of countries in the Region have developed a national action plan to stop child maltreatment, but fewer than half of these plans are funded.

WHO/Europe’s INSPIRE package is an evidence-based resource that supports those countries committed to preventing and addressing violence against children and adolescents by identifying strategies that have successfully reduced levels of violence.

The 7 strategies promoted by INSPIRE are: implementation and enforcement of laws; norms and values; safe environments; parent and caregiver support; income and economic strengthening; response and support services; and education and life skills.

The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children designates as Pathfinder countries those that have made a formal, public commitment to comprehensive action to end all forms of violence against children. Ending “abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children” is also part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

In the European Region, WHO relies on Pathfinder countries for the leadership they bring to regional action for scaling up the prevention of and response to violence against children.