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One in 10 girls worldwide are sexually abused, UNICEF says

Date

Somini Sengupta

A women's shelter in regional NSW.

A women's shelter in regional NSW.

New York: One in 10 girls worldwide have been forced into a sexual act, and six in 10 children ages two to 14 are regularly beaten by parents and caregivers, according to a report issued by the United Nations' children's agency, UNICEF.

The report, drawing on data from 190 countries, paints a picture of endemic physical and emotional violence inflicted daily on children, mostly at home and in peacetime rather than on the streets or during war. Homicide is especially common in some of the Latin American countries from which children are fleeing by the tens of thousands into the United States: It is the leading killer of adolescent boys ages 19 and younger in El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela. Central and Eastern Europe report the lowest rates of homicide among children.

Overall, war accounts for a small share of violence against children. But during conflicts and other humanitarian crises, domestic violence against women and children rises measurably, according to the authors of the study.

"Most violence against children occurs at the hands of the people charged with their care or with whom they interact daily - caregivers, peers and intimate partners," the report says.

About six in 10 children, 1 billion worldwide, are subjected to corporal punishment as a form of discipline by their caregivers, including parents, although the report concludes that "the most severe forms of corporal punishment - hitting a child on the head, ears or face or hitting a child hard and repeatedly - are less common over all".

Among girls ages 15 to 19, almost one-fourth said they had been the victims of "some form of physical violence since age 15". They said they suffered most at the hands of the men to whom they were closest. In countries as varied as India and Zambia, for instance, more than 70 per cent of girls named their current or former husbands or partners as the perpetrators of physical violence against them.

There seems to be widespread social acceptance of the practice: Half of all girls ages 15 to 19 said they believed a man was sometimes justified in hitting his wife.

Girls worldwide also reported being subjected to sexual violence at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends. One in 10 said they had experienced "forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives". Boys were found to have experienced sexual violence, too, but to a lesser extent.

The report also shows that more than a third of children were a victim of bullying by the time they turned 13. For children aged between 13 and 15, between 30 and 40 per cent reported being in a physical fight at least once during the past year. 

The report, called Hidden in Plain Sight, was launched as part of UNICEF's global #ENDviolence campaign. It draws attention to the many forms of violence children experience and recognises violence happens to children everywhere, and not just in conflict hotspots.

A spokesman for UNICEF Australia, Tim O'Connor, said that much of the data in Australia is at the state level and does not filter up for international comparison. He said that there had been an 88 per cent increase in child protection orders in Australia since 2000. Mr O'Connor said this was partly due to increased reporting of incidents but it also showed that there is still a substantial problem in Australia. He also noted that there had been the doubling in the number of children living in out of home care since 2007.

Mr O'Connor said that the UNICEF report mentioned Australia for good practice in two instances. One in initiatives promoting responsible behaviour of parents around children's sporting events. The other was in a nurse family planning program in Queensland.

New York Times

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