UN report reveals 'shocking' levels of violence against children

Violence at home, school and care facilities is a part of daily life for hundreds of millions of children around the world, a UN report released Thursday suggests.

Violenceat home, school and care facilitiesis a part of daily life for hundreds of millions of children around the world, a United Nations report released Thursday suggests.

"We knew children were victims of violence, but even so it was very surprising and shocking that it was so widespread," said Mehr Khan Williams, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"It cuts across cultures, income levels, education levels. No country is immune from it."

The four-year study that encompassed 130 countries was completed by Paulo Pinheiro, an independent expert appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

It concludes the majority of violent acts experienced by children take place in areas where they should feel mostsafe, such asat home andschool, or in state care.

While the report notes violence in the home usually doesn't leave serious or permanent physical injuries, it is most often accompanied by psychological violence, including threats, belittling, isolation and rejection.

"Violence against children in the family may frequently take place in the context of discipline and takes the form of physical, cruel or humiliating punishment," said the report.

"Harsh treatment and punishment in the family are common in both industrialized and developing countries."

Corporal punishment common

Mali Nilsson, Save the Children's global adviser on child protection, said corporal punishment is one of the most common forms of violence against children.

"In most regions, it is looked upon as justifiable and socially accepted," she said.

Millions of children are exposed to sexual violence each year, says the report.

"As many as 150 million girls and 73 million boys worldwide are subject to sexual violence each year, usually by someone in their family circle," said the report.

A 2002 Canadian study showed children made up 23 per cent of the population, but accounted for 61 per cent of sexual assault victims.

Hundreds of millions of children witness domestic violence each year, according to the report. Estimates range as high as 275 million, including as many as 362,000 in Canada.

Most are exposed to fights between parents or a mother and her partner, it says.

Khan Williams said violence in the home is "a private space that's hard to throw light on."

State-sanctioned violence

The world's children are also exposed to state-sanctioned violence, such as corporal punishment at schools and child labour.

More than 100 countries allow physical punishments such as beating and caning in schools, while violence also occurs in the form of fights and bullying on school playgrounds.

Much of this violence is directed against females and homosexuals, said the study.

"Sexual and gender-based violence is facilitated by government’s failure to enact and implement laws that provide students with explicit protection from discrimination," said the report.

About 218 million children are part of the world's labour force, while roughly one million children are in prisons around the globe.

It's mostly boys who experience violence in state-run institutions such as detention centres, orphanages and reform schools, said the report, which noted 77 countries accept violent punishments in penal institutions.

"Children may be beaten, caned, painfully restrained, and subjected to humiliating treatment such as being stripped naked and caned in front of other detainees," said the report.

"Girls in detention facilities are at particular risk of physical and sexual abuse, mainly when supervised by male staff."

There are also as many as 250,000 child soldiers around the world. In Congo, more than 11,000 children are missing and believed to be either forced into armies and militias or used as sex slaves.

Harmful traditional practices encouraged by community leaders, such as female genital mutilation,are prevalent in Africa and occur in immigrant communities in Europe, Asia, Canada and the U.S., said the report.

"These are centuries-old traditions and attitudes we've had," said Khan Williams, who said she hopes the study will increase awareness of levels of violence against children.