Protecting girls from violence must take priority

Article Date

17 September 2014

Article Author

Stella Mukasa

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Sexual and other forms of physical violence occur everywhere in the world.  And everywhere in the world – whether committed by American football stars in high-end hotels or in the shadows of a rural village in India – it disproportionately affects women and girls, who are especially vulnerable. The recently released UNICEF report, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, presents alarming statistics that show just how hard hit the latter group is.

UNICEF reports that 1 in 10 girls have experienced sexual violence and nearly one quarter of girls have faced physical violence during their lifetimes.  Despite limited research on boys’ exposure to violence, data suggest that they are often victims of violence as well. Additionally, the report notes that nearly half of girls and the majority of boys who experience violence do not seek help to end it.

Girls’ high levels of vulnerability to sexual violence represent a wider spectrum of potential related risks including child marriage, school drop-out, risky abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS, all of which ultimately threaten to reverse the investments being made to advance the status of women and girls.

The unsettling findings detailed in ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ come at a critical time in the global policy arena. As the international community prepares to establish its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and post-2015 development agenda, this report presents data that impress the urgency of headlining the elimination of violence against children, with a strong focus on sexual violence.

The search for policy and programmatic solutions to reverse the trends presented in this report is also imperative. Yet, relatively little is known on what works to effectively stem sexual violence against children. In order to inform wide-scale policy and programming, independent and reliable evidence is required on the effectiveness of the noteworthy strategies presented in UNICEF’s 2008 Child Protection Strategy as well as other commendable strategies by governments, civil society, and community-based organizations around the world.

Through the Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS) program, The International Center for Research on Women is exploring the potential for school-based curriculums to encourage equal relationships between girls and boys, examine social norms, address violence as well as looking at how to intervene to prevent violence. Following the success of the program’s pilot phase, GEMS expanded to Goa, Kota and 250 public schools in Mumbai. The success of the program in Mumbai has also led the Maharashtra state government to integrate components of GEMS into nearly 25,000 schools. Currently, ICRW and local partners are conducting a randomized controlled trial of this program across three Asian countries.

National conversations about violence against women and children provide the opportunity for an urgent call to action for adequate domestic and international policies that help victims of violence and help address its causes.  UNICEF’s findings, as well as evidence generated by ICRW that suggest that multi-pronged approaches to eliminating violence against children can enjoy successes, offer the global community a valuable opportunity to invest in eliminating violence against children and hopefully create a new generation that will continue to live their lives violence free.