Calls for Stronger Stand Against Child Violence
1 November 2017 at 5:06 pm
UNICEF Australia says violence against children needs to be taken more seriously across the country, as a new report outlines concerns around bullying and sexual violence affecting Australian children.
On Wednesday, UNICEF released its report, A Familiar Face: Violence in the Lives of Children and Adolescents.
It found that “routine” violence against children was becoming normalised, particularly at home and in schools.
Bullying was found to be a major concern for Australian children, with a third (34 per cent) of Australian students aged 13 to 15 years old reporting they were bullied at least once a month.
“The statistics reveal that children experience violence across all stages of childhood, in diverse settings, and often at the hands of the trusted individuals with whom they interact on a daily basis,” the report said.
“Three quarters of children aged two to four worldwide – close to 300 million – are regularly subjected to violent discipline (physical punishment and/or psychological aggression) by their parents or other caregivers at home, and around six in 10 (250 million) are subjected to physical punishment.
“Many children are also indirectly affected by violence in the home. Worldwide, one in four children (176 million) under the age of five live with a mother who has been a recent victim of intimate partner violence.”
Alison Elliott, a senior policy adviser at UNICEF Australia, told Pro Bono News that Australia needed to change its approach to dealing with violence against children.
“Our report highlights that violence against children is pervasive and common. In Australia, I think it’s fair to say that there’s growing awareness of the need to better protect children from violence,” Elliott said.
“The national framework for protecting Australia’s children is an illustration of this. We’ve also had several royal commissions that have put a spotlight on violence against children. But what’s required is action, not just inquiries and reports.
“The reality is, that violence against children must be taken more seriously by us all, including here in Australia.”
Corporal punishment was also highlighted as a key issue in the report.
“According to data from 30 countries, nearly half of children aged 12 to 23 months are subjected to corporal punishment at home and a similar proportion are exposed to verbal abuse,” the report said.
“Only 60 countries have adopted legislation that fully prohibits the use of corporal punishment against children at home, leaving more than 600 million children under age five without full legal protection.”
In Australia, corporal punishment is only partly prohibited in schools, and there is no legislation fully prohibiting corporal punishment at home.
Elliott said this needed to change immediately.
“That corporal punishment is still legal in some circumstances in Australia is a key concern for UNICEF Australia, particularly when so many other countries have outlawed the practise,” she said.
“At a very basic level, it demonstrates inequality in how we treat children, as hitting someone in any other circumstances would constitute assault and is illegal.
“We also know that there’s growing evidence that indicates the negative impacts of corporal punishment and establishes clear links between the corporal punishment of children and subsequent family violence.”
Sexual violence was another key concern outlined in the report, with around 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 globally having experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts in their lifetime.
Elliott said this was an extremely serious issue in Australia.
“It’s widely thought that the data available on sexual violence is quite limited due to the known instances of underreporting when people do experience sexual violence,” she said.
“Girls in particular are exposed to sexual violence, but boys are often exposed as well. Looking at the report as a whole, we know that children are experiencing violence in the places where they should feel safest.”
The report said ending violence against children was “everyone’s responsibility” and this was a call that Elliott echoed.
“The reality is that violence against children requires us all to play a part. It requires a cultural shift in how we view children,” she said.
“I strongly encourage the Australian government to take on board the recommendations from the current royal commission underway, which has sought input from victims and survivors of violence.
“We must learn from lessons of the past and reform our laws, policies and practises, so children can be protected in all situations.”