Sarah Morris attended a three-day conference on ending violence against children in the Pacific in Nadi, Fiji. Hosted by UNICEF Pacific, the conference brought together representatives from 14 Pacific Island states including senior government officials, practitioners and child protection experts, as well as The Special Representative to the UN Secretary General on Violence Against Children, Ms Marta Santos Pais.
The violent and unrelenting cyclone that ripped through Vanuatu in March 2015 caught the world’s attention. And rightfully so.
But there is another kind of violence that plagues our South Pacific paradise that doesn’t make international headlines.
In the Asia Pacific region the cost of violence against children is US$209 billion per year. It causes lost productivity, disability, decreased quality of life, poor educational outcomes, and a huge strain on services.
It can directly cause brain injury and physical trauma, developmental delays, drug abuse, and criminal, violent and other risk-taking behaviours.
Violence against children has the power to undo all the positive development efforts made in our South Pacific region.
Recent data from a global report on violence against children shows the scale of the problem. Pacific focused data shows us that high percentages of children have experienced physical and/or psychological aggression in the home - Fiji 71 per cent, Kiribati 81 per cent, Solomon Islands 72 per cent and Vanuatu 78 per cent.
This combined with high rates of violence against women and an acceptance of violence as a suitable punishment for children, results in a challenging cycle to break. Where baseline data exists more than 70 per cent of adults admit to using violent punishment on children at home.
Gender inequality is one of the major drivers of violence against children. 75 per cent of adolescent boys surveyed in three Pacific countries think it is ok to beat your wife. 57 per cent of women in South Pacific countries have experienced physical violence from their intimate partners.
It shows that children who witness violence in the home display serious behavioural problems like physical aggression and developmental delays.
A child seeing violence at home can be as damaging as that same child being beaten. We know that girls who see their mothers harmed are more likely to become victims of violence themselves when they grow up. We know that children who are abused are more likely to become abusers themselves. We know all of this and yet the problem persists.
We know that a childhood free from violence, exploitation and abuse lays the foundations for a healthy, violence-free future, ending the inter-generational cycle of abuse. But we also know that in practice, this is an enormous undertaking that will need champions in all walks of life to ensure it becomes a reality.
UNICEF is committed to working with governments, civil society organisations, faith-based leaders, communities, families and young people themselves to address social norms, systems and legislative gaps that place children at risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.
In the Asia Pacific region the cost of violence against children is US$209 billion per year.
The design and implementation of strong laws, backed by services for protection and strong communication interventions for social and behaviour change is vital to guaranteeing respect for the fundamental rights of children and adolescents, most notably their right to safety and security. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that every child has the right to be protected from all forms of violence.
On the global stage New Zealand can play a role in ensuring that ending violence against children is central to the setting of the Sustainable Development Goals that will be announced by the UN this September. We can also use our role on the Security Council to champion the rights of children through mechanisms like the Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict.
Any form of violence, abuse or exploitation against any child is unacceptable. Culture and religion can not be used as excuses. Now is the time to end violence.