Guest Post on Violence against children

by Dan O'Donnell, J.D, DCI Staff member (1988-1992) 


The definition of violence adopted by the 2006 UN Study and endorsed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child is overly broad. Although violence and exploitation are related, it is useful to distinguish between them. Discussion of the prevention of and response to violence is likely to be more focused if it is limited to physical, sexual and psychological violence.

International human rights law recognizes five obligations applicable to Violence Against Children (VAC): to prohibit/criminalize it, to report VAC, to provide victims with remedies, to make justice child-sensitive, and to cooperate with one another in law enforcement. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) article 39 requires the provision of assistance in recovery.

The extent to which the other obligations apply to specific countries is fragmentary at present, depending on the nature of the violence and what other treaties are binding on them. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) considers most of the above-mentioned obligations to be implicit in the UNCRC. For more than a decade, UN General Assembly resolutions have urged States to take legislative action to prohibit all forms of violence against children and to end impunity for crimes against children. Recently, they also urge States to provide victims with medical, social and legal assistance, and to cooperate with each other in law enforcement.

Information on the impact of legislation on VAC is scarce. The adoption of legislation concerning VAC has led to decreases in certain forms of VAC in some countries, but data from others show increases in VAC despite the adoption of legislation against it. Some factors associated with positive impact and with the lack of impact have been identified, although the reasons for the failure of some legislation on VAC to reduce prevalence usually are not carefully documented and analysed. Systematic efforts should be made to document the impact of changes in legislation and law enforcement on the prevalence of VAC.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for the elimination of VAC by 2030. There are three indicators for this target, and UNICEF is responsible for collecting data on two of them: the proportion of children who experience physical violence and/or psychological aggression by caretakers, and the proportion of young men and women who experience sexual violence during childhood. It is vitally important for the next Strategic Plan, which will cover a period starting in 2022, to mandate the collection of data on these SDG targets. It is an aberration that, while the SDGs call for elimination of VAC, the UNICEF Strategic Plan for 2018-2021 contains no quantifiable goals concerning the prevalence of any form of VAC.1 The next Strategic Plan should contain quantitative goals concerning the reduction or elimination of the core forms of VAC: physical, sexual and psychological. Such goals should be based on baseline data on prevalence of different forms of VAC for different kinds of children (girls or boys, young children/adolescents, etc.) It also is an aberration that the present UNICEF Strategic Plan does not call for the reduction of impunity for VAC, nor for ensuring the access of child victims to child-friendly justice and assistance.

Read the full article here.

[1] Viewpoints in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of DCI.

[2] UNICEF Strategic Plan 2018-2021: Executive Summary, p.17; Final results framework of the UNICEF Strategic Plan 2018-2021, E/ICEF/2017/18, p.27

About the Author:

Dan O’Donnell, J.D, worked for DCI from 1988 to 1992. He previously worked for the International Commission of Jurists and Interamerican Institute for Human Rights. From 1992 to 2019 he worked as an independent consultant on child rights, mainly for UNICEF. He also was Chief Investigator for the Guatemalan truth commission (CEH) in 1997 and, in 1998, Deputy Head of the Secretary General’s Investigative Team in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His many publications include Children Are People Too: A Guide to the CRC for Students and Teachers, published by Anvil Press, Manila, in 1996; Derecho Internacional de los Derechos Humanos, published by the OHCHR, Bogota, in 2004, and Law Reform and Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Innocenti Research Centre, Florence, 2007. He resides in Costa Rica with his wife Merida.

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