Keeping our children safe

A recent report, published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with UNICEF, UNESCO, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence against Children, and the End Violence Partnership, says that half of the world’s children, or approximately 1 billion children, each year are affected by physical, sexual or psychological violence, suffering injuries, disabilities and death because countries have failed to follow established strategies to protect them.
A report titled “Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children”, released less than three years ago, was the first of its kind, charting progress in 155 countries against the “INSPIRE” framework, a set of seven strategies for preventing and responding to violence against children.
The report signals a clear need in all countries, including Guyana, to scale up efforts to implement these strategies. While 88% of the countries surveyed have key laws in place to protect children against violence, less than half of countries (47%) said these were being strongly enforced. It is therefore clear that having the policy framework in place is not enough, there is a serious challenge as it relates to implementation.
The data for the report was compiled through a survey administered between 2018 and 2019, with responses from over 1000 decision-makers from 155 countries. The INSPIRE strategies launched in 2016 call for the implementation and enforcement of laws; changing norms and values to make violence unacceptable; creating safe physical environments for children; providing support to parent and caregivers; strengthening income and economic security and stability; improving response and support services for victims; and providing children with education and life skills.
The report also includes the first ever global homicide estimates specifically for children under 18 years of age – previous estimates were based on data that included 18- to 19-year-olds. It finds that, in 2017, around 40,000 children were victims of homicide.
Of the INSPIRE strategies, only access to schools through enrollment showed the most progress, with 54% of countries reporting that a sufficient number of children in need were being reached in this way. Between 32% and 37% of countries considered that victims of violence could access support services, while 26% of countries provided programmes on parent and caregiver support; 21% of countries had programmes to change harmful norms; and 15% of countries had modifications to provide safe physical environments for children.
Although a majority of countries (83%) have national data on violence against children, only 21% used these to set baselines and national targets to prevent and respond to violence against children.
According to the report’s findings, about 80% of countries have national plans of action and policies, but only one-fifth have plans that are fully funded or have measurable targets. A lack of funding combined with inadequate professional capacity is a likely contributing factor and a reason why implementation has been slow.
The report also noted that stay-at-home measures, including school closures, have limited the usual sources of support for families and individuals such as friends, extended family, or professionals. This further erodes victims’ ability to successfully cope with crises and the new routines of daily life. Spikes in calls to helplines for child abuse and intimate partner violence have been observed.
And while online communities have become central to maintain many children’s learning, support and play, an increase in harmful online behaviours, including cyberbullying, risky online behaviour, and sexual exploitation, have been identified.
WHO has underlined the need for global action to ensure that the necessary financial and technical support is available to all countries. It notes also that monitoring and evaluation are crucial to determine the extent to which these prevention efforts are effectively delivered to all who need them.
Dr Howard Taylor, a representative of End Violence Partnership, puts it this way: “Ending violence against children is the right thing to do, a smart investment to make, and it’s possible…We can and must create a world where every child can thrive free from violence and become a new generation of adults to experience healthy and prosperous lives.”
Like WHO and other partners, we believe that it is time to fully fund comprehensive national action plans that will keep children safe at home, at school, online, and in their communities.