A Life Without Violence: Not a Reality for Many Children

Strong partnerships help move the needle to prevent violence against children.

Posted Feb 07, 2020

All children have the fundamental right to live without violence. Sadly, this right is often unrealized. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 2 children aged 2 to 17 years have suffered some form of violence—whether physical, emotional, and/or sexual—in the past year.

Together for Girls understands that change comes about when the problems are analyzed, causes are identified, and interventions and policies are put in place to mitigate and prevent violence. But to tackle a global problem such as this, you need strong partners to help. 

Together for Girls
Source: Together for Girls

Since 2009, Together for Girls has collaborated with global leaders on child abuse prevention including UN agencies, private sector organizations, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

One of Together for Girls’ efforts is to support the collection of data that inform prevalence estimates for child sexual abuse victimization and perpetration. Such estimates—lacking for most countries—form the basis against which the clinical and cost-effectiveness of prevention efforts can be evaluated. With the CDC and other partners, Together for Girls has supported the collection of Violence Against Children Surveys(VACS). These surveys have been completed by nationally representative samples of children and young people ages 13 to 24 in more than 20 countries and are underway in two additional countries. The VACS are carefully constructed to measure the prevalence, past 12-months’ incidence and circumstances surrounding sexual, physical and emotional violence in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. The surveys also identify risk factors, protective factors and consequences of violence. 

The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is partnering with Together for Girls to examine Violence Against Children Survey data, with a focus on perpetrator data. In an initial study, the Center examined VACS completed in Cambodia, Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland, and Tanzania. 

Many of our preliminary findings accord with previous research informed by VACS and other surveys. For example, it was found that violence is a common experience for children in the countries that contributed VACS. Between the ages of 0-17, one or more violence victimizations were reported by approximately 60% of Cambodian participants, 66% of Haitian participants, 77% of Kenyan participants, 61% of participants in Malawi, 58% of Eswatini participant (girls only surveyed in Swaziland) and 67% of Tanzanian participants. 

With specific respect to sexual violence, results indicated that initial exposure was most likely to occur between the ages of 6 and 11 and that risk of sexual violence continues through young adulthood.  This was true for both boys and girls.  Older girls and young women were more likely to report more severe forms of sexual violence than younger girls.     

Of perhaps greatest interest, the experience of sexual violence was not always higher for girls than boys, as is generally reported.  For example, Haitian boys 12 years or older and Kenyan boys 18 years or older were more likely or equally likely to report sexual victimization compared to girls of the same age.

Information on perpetrators was limited, and often grouped (that is, not specific to the type of reported abuse). These data indicate that parents were the most common perpetrators of violence in general. This is unsurprising, because parents are the most common perpetrators of child physical and emotional abuse, the most commonly reported types of violence. Other perpetrators of violence in general (that is, regardless of type of violence) included teachers (most commonly for school-aged children 6-17 years) and peers (most commonly for young adults ages 18-24).  

In countries where perpetrator information was delineated by type of abuse, we found that sexual violence was most often perpetrated by someone unrelated to and the opposite gender of the victim.   

This partnership with Together for Girls, CDC’s VACS team and the Moore Center is just beginning. The VACS present a remarkable resource for examining global patterns of violence against children, as well as the risk factors that may contribute to this violence. It is the hope that these collaborations and the resultant research will bring increased visibility and clarity to the problem of child sexual violence and contribute to the development of effective prevention and intervention efforts that operate at a global level.