The Ethical Imperative to End Violence Against Children by Dr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro


The Ethical Imperative to End Violence Against Children

Dr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro
Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Children,
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
Organization of American States, OAS and
Former UN Independent Expert for the Secretary-Generals Study On Violence against Children
Third Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children
Hiroshima, Japan, 24 May 2008

Dear Children, Dear Young People, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) and UNESCO, UNICEF and the Arigatou Foundation for inviting me for this Third Forum and most particularly Mr. Takeyasu Miyamoto and Ambassador Samuel Koo. I want to extend my warmest greetings to my friends from the UN, educators, development works and young people, all united to reaffirm a commitment to secure the rights of children all over the world.

Violence against children is not a new subject for the international community. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has always addressed the prevalence of different forms of violence. Graça Machel developed a Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. The Yokohama World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children which followed the activities initiated in Stockholm with the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration on sexual exploitation set in motion clear actions by governments to address this aspect of violence against children. The particularity of the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children that I had the great satisfaction to lead is the fact it tackled all forms of violence ( with the exception of children in armed conflict) without ranking them – because to consider one form of violence less serious than another would not be acceptable under a human rights approach. The Study, I would like to underline this, was fully grounded in the Convention on the Rights of the Child which affirms that

“States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian or any other person who has the care of the child.� Article 19, Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child could not be clearer: States parties Must ensure the protection of children from all forms of violence while in the Care of individuals or institutions. No violence can be excused. The Convention Reinforces what was already assured by the various international human rights Treaties that have developed from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Beyond establishing the need for full respect for the physical and personal Integrity, the international norm recognizes the particular vulnerability of Children to violence and the consequent need for strengthened measures for their Protection.

The almost unanimous ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the 0Child is evidence of this extensive support. Regrettably, the impressive endorsement given to these rights through nice statements or even legal instruments is insufficiently translated to reality by most governmental institutions.

And yet, despite all commitment on paper, there are many who portray child rights as a soft topic in the human rights agenda, somehow not deserving the same attention given to more polemic issues. This truly constrains the effectiveness of any initiative tackling violence against children. Precisely when there is a recognized shared concern, when all States are able to fully commit to a set of principles, we must show we are able to benefit from this support.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, I would like to repeat this, has consistently expressed violence against children as a central concern. In 2000 and 2001 the Committee devoted its days of general discussion to the problems of State violence against children and violence in the family and in the school. Through different debates it was always clear that despite the wide recognition of the obligation to protect children from violence, children of all ages continued to be frequently vulnerable to violence in all regions of the world.

Inspired by the ground-breaking experience of the United Nations Secretary-Generals Study on the impact of armed conflict on children, the Committee then recommended that the Secretary-General be requested to conduct an In-depth international study on violence against children. This request was Endorsed by both the General Assembly and the Commission of Human Rights, and in 2003 I had the honor of being appointed as the Independent Expert to lead the United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children – the First global study on all forms of violence affecting children was prepared by The UN system.

Developing the study

The scope of the Study was determined by the Convention it dealt with all Forms of violence affecting all children up to the age of eighteen years, with The exception of violence in situations of conflict since a UN mandate on A child in armed conflict was already in operation. The definition of violence is that of article 19 of the Convention, and also draws on the definition in the World Report on Violence and Health (2002): the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a child, by an individual or group, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity.

The preparation of such a Study with a global scope and covering so many issues was augmented through a truly participatory process. With the decisive support of Governments, UN entities, and NGOs, the Study managed to engage a large network of individuals and organizations in a number of activities that included regional, sub-regional and national consultations, expert thematic meetings and field visits. In March 2004, a detailed questionnaire was sent to Governments on their approaches to violence against children, 136 countries responded to the request providing a unique picture on the current approaches on this issue. To ensure a thorough understanding, the study also made a comprehensive effort to combine in its analysis the knowledge of professionals with different expertise and from various sectors, from lawyers to public health experts, from social workers to educators.

Another decisive element in this challenging process was the decision to ensure the meaningful participation of children and young people. Particular efforts were made with the support of non-governmental organizations to ensure that children and young people had their right to be heard respected in a piece of work that would address issues so relevant to their lives.

This challenging Study process was designed to gather the existing knowledge and experience in the field of violence against children to reflect all regions of the world and the many facets of the problem, as well as bringing to light the formidable number and quality of promising and proven practices within a truly global framework, with the potential to make the key message of the Study a reality: No violence against children is justifiable – All violence is preventable.

The Study findings and recommendations

The Study calls for an end to all justification to any form of violence against children. It also points out that violence is no accident violence can and must be prevented and violence against children cannot be legal in any country or in any setting. More importantly, the Study proposes a set of very concrete recommendations to focus the work that member States do together with international organizations, regional organizations, and civil society to implement their commitment to protect children from all violence. In my report I have put forward a set of twelve overarching recommendations and specific recommendations which apply to the five settings addressed by the study.

The Study confirmed that although being one of the most clearly condemned forms of violence; violence against children is possibly one of the most invisible and prevalent forms. Violence remains unregistered and unpunished, being sometimes even condoned by society under the guise of discipline or tradition. The inadequacy of justice and security systems, and the pretexts of privacy or of an incontestable adult authority over children are used to shield perpetrators and keep violence against children insulated by walls of silence.

The Study also asserts that violence against children takes a variety of forms and is influenced by a wide range of factors, from the personal characteristics of the victim and perpetrator to their social, cultural, and physical environments. Economic development, social status, age, sex and gender are among the many factors associated with the risk of violence. Although the consequences of violence may vary according to its nature and severity, the short- and long-term repercussions are very often grave and damaging.

Based on these findings, the Study makes 12 overarching recommendations to strengthen the protection of children from violence. These recommendations focus on government responsibility across the very wide range of sectors relevant to the various forms of violence and settings in which violence occurs, and encourage actions with other partners. Many of the recommendations have been heard before, but never before have the various sectors and issues relevant to violence been brought together in a unifying framework for action.

As it is clearly stated by the international jurisprudence, the Study urges the establishment of an explicit foundation and framework of law and policy in which all forms of violence against children in all settings, including all harmful traditional practices, all sexual violence and all corporal punishment are prohibited. Laws certainly do not guarantee immediate change, but without an an adequate legal framework change is unlikely to happen.

As States have the duty to prevent and respond to violence, the Study appeals for the strengthening of national commitment and action through continued and coordinated strategies. Effective policies must integrate different Government sectors must be systematic and based on human-rights principles. Long term and sustainable effects are only attainable with the adequate integration of these policies into national planning processes and budgets. The Study also emphasizes investment in prevention as the most effective use of resources to reduce violence against children. While there is a wealth of information on the risk factors associated with preventing violence, very little is done to address them. It is unfortunate that violence is so frequently addressed through reactive and repressive measures in detriment to long term policies addressing root causes.

Where violence is occurring, early detection mechanisms must be in place and victims must be provided with the necessary assistance. We must provide child victims of all forms of violence with sensitive, integrated, and high-quality legal, health and social services, focused on recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. In this sense, accessible and child-friendly protection systems and services are irreplaceable. Successful experiences of simple, accessible, and well-publicized avenues for children or their representatives to report violence, wherever it occurs need to be replicated more widely.

As the process of the study also demonstrates, we must recognize and respect children as partners. If we really want to build child-sensitive policies we must create and support mechanisms and structures to ensure the full participation of children in all aspects of prevention and response in accordance with their best interest.

We must also improve our overall understanding of this hidden problem and how to prevent it and most effectively respond to it. This is only possible through systematic data collection and research. Without comparable and reliable data the impact of the measures taken cannot be interpreted. Without universal birth registration or credible data on mortality causes it is virtually impossible to promote solid policies against violence. Strengthened capacity to monitor and analyze situation where violence occurs can and should be used to inform and improve programs.

Challenges for the way forward

More than one year after the Study release there are indications that this process is helping to raise the global awareness on the plight of child victims of violence. Audiences in international, regional and national organizations acknowledge the prevalence of the problem and reaffirm the commitment to eliminate it. A central challenge ahead is to convert the different recommendations proposed by the Study into practical strategies which are relevant to the diverse realities that exist around the world.

Before this Study, international efforts had already raised attention to issues such as the involvement of children in armed conflict, trafficking or the sexual exploitation of children. The promotion of a Study focusing on all forms of violence broadened the agenda, highlighting issues too frequently absent from the international discussion on child rights such as the situation of children in their own homes, in schools or in care and justice systems purportedly responsible for their well-being. The Study also called the attention for the fact that action is needed both in rich and impoverished in regions.

Success or failure in the elimination of violence against children will certainly be associated to the capacity of maintaining a coherent and continuous approach to this problem in various contexts around the world. Perhaps, the main contribution of this UN Study was to bring a logical framework that is multi-disciplinary, combining the expertise of all relevant actors in the process of prevention and responding to violence. Both at international and national levels it is essential to ensure continued high level attention and coordination while addressing the diversity of issues presented by the UN Study on Violence against Children.

After the conclusion of the Study, after years of accumulated recommendations by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and numerous additional international efforts, it is not possible to ignore the need to urgently and seriously invest in the protection of children from violence; and it is not possible to continue to ignore that violence is still condoned in many places in contradiction to basic human rights principles. The mechanisms and strategies available are not yet adequately implemented to effectively change the patterns that still allow so much violence to happen. No excuses can be accepted for inaction. The international community cannot fail on such a consensual matter, and children cannot wait any longer.

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