Addressing sexual violence against children

The UN Study on Violence against Children estimates that some 150 million girls and 73 million boys have endured forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence.

The The Human Rights Council held its second annual meeting on children’s rights - © UN Jean Marc-FerreViolations often take place in settings where children ought to feel safe such as the family home or in schools, or in situations where children are most vulnerable such as detention facilities, during displacement or in situations of armed conflict.

Dignitaries at the 13th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva convened their second annual meeting on the rights of the child dedicated this year to protecting boys and girls from sexual violence.

The full-day meeting sought to analyse the manifestations and root causes of sexual violence against boys and girls, as well as propose responses to effectively reduce violence against children.

“Children are physically hurt and mentally scarred in the most terrible way, with lifelong consequences, often by those in whom they place the most trust, such as family, teachers, police and humanitarian workers, among others”, said Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division at OHCHR.

Experts who analysed these manifestations at the meeting also highlighted that due to the sensitive nature of sexual violence, data and research on sexual violence against children remain a challenge across regions. A deafening silence surrounds the issue as victims are often ashamed to come forward and seek justice.

“Children are at times blamed for what has happened, coerced to keep it a secret and often stigmatized and marginalised by their families and communities”, said Marta Santos, UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children.

The panel also noted that situations of armed conflict create a favourable environment for impunity. Sexual violence as a tactic of war and a means to terrorise civilians has been used in modern day conflicts and has been recognised by the international community as a war crime. It has left scores of women, girls and boys to their suffering and without legal, medical or psychological assistance.

Children are the most vulnerable yet they are the least protected. One of the conclusions of the meeting was that violence against children is however preventable and that investing efforts and resources in prevention is the most effective means to reduce violence against children.

Still, most States who have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child do not have a common definition of sexual violence against children. States have not universally ratified a number of pertinent international and regional instruments and some national laws have not clearly defined nor criminalized all forms of sexual exploitation of children.

Breaking the silence and encouraging denunciations would be an incentive for States to stand by their obligations to protect children against violence. The experts advised States to put in place investigative procedures and prosecution methods that are child-sensitive in order to avoid re-victimization of children. They also highlighted the need for safe and easy access to child sensitive counselling, complaint and reporting mechanisms. Children should also be trained in order to enable them to identify risk situations; training from early age will benefit them throughout their whole lives.

Abigail Sogah, 16, is a member of a youth group sponsored by Plan International which has embarked on a successful peer sensitization campaign in Ghana.  The group uses drama and radio talk shows to educate the community on the sexual abuse of girls in schools.

“We would like all governments and others to intensify law enforcement and to make sure that perpetrators are severely punished. Sensitization of the public should also continue. We recommend that children and youth get the chance to be involved in finding solutions for ending violence against children”, Abigail said. “Let us all agree that sexual violence is highly avoidable and we need to take action now!”

In light of the debate, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution urging all States to ensure accountability and seek to end impunity of perpetrators of sexual violence and abuse against children.

30 March 2010