One in 10 girls worldwide have been forced into a sexual act, and six in 10 children aged 2 to 14 are regularly beaten by parents and caregivers, according to a report issued Thursday by the United Nations’ children’s agency, Unicef.
The report, drawing on data from 190 countries, paints a picture of endemic physical and emotional violence inflicted daily on children, mostly at home and in peacetime rather than on the streets or in war. Homicide is especially common in some of the Latin American countries from which children are fleeing by the tens of thousands into the United States: It is the leading killer of adolescent boys under age 20 in El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela. Central and Eastern Europe report the lowest rates of homicide among children.
Overall, war accounts for a small share of violence against children. But during times of conflict and other humanitarian crises, domestic violence against adult women and children rises measurably, according to the authors of the study.
The constant threat to children is violence at home, including, at times, sexual violence by friends, relatives and teachers. About 6 in 10 children, 1 billion worldwide, are subjected to corporal punishment as a form of discipline by their caregivers, including parents, though the report concludes that “the most severe forms of corporal punishment – hitting a child on the head, ears or face or hitting a child hard and repeatedly – are less common overall.”
Among girls aged 15 to 19, almost 1 in 4 said they had been the victims of “some form of physical violence since age 15.” They said they suffered most at the hands of the men to whom they were closest. In countries as varied as India and Zambia, for instance, more than 70 per cent of girls named their current or former husbands or partners as the perpetrators of physical violence against them.
Likewise, girls worldwide reported being subjected to sexual violence at the hands of husbands and boyfriends. One in 10 said they had experienced “forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.”
Boys were found to have experienced sexual violence, too, but to a lesser extent. In the United States, 35 per cent of girls aged 14 to 17, and 20 per cent of boys, had experienced sexual violence.
Separately, an advocacy group called the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict issued a report Thursday documenting the recruitment of child soldiers by the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria, and by a civil defence group formed to counter the militants.
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