Approximately 120 million girls around the world have experienced a sexual assault by the age of 20, that’s just over one in 10, according to a new report by UNICEF. Furthermore, 84 million girls aged 15 to 19 have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners.
The report on 190 countries, Hidden in Plain Sight: Statistical Analysis of Violence against Children, exposes the most frequent perpetrators of sexual violence as current or former husbands, boyfriends or partners and caregivers. The data is classed as the largest ever study of violence against children.
This staggering figure exposes how children are regularly subjected to violence, with boys to a lesser extent than girls. The most common form of sexual violence is cyber-victimisation. UNICEF warned the Internet skills of today’s children can have the pernicious effect of opening them up to online sexual abuse. “It occurs in places where children should be safe, their homes, schools and communities. Increasingly, it happens over the internet, and it’s perpetrated by family members and teachers, neighbours and strangers and other children,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake.
Sexual violence towards girls is widespread and has grown particularly over the last decade. “The psychological impact of sexual violence can be severe due to the shame, secrecy and stigma that tend to accompany it, with child victims often having to find ways to cope in isolation.” Its seriousness is said to have often been “underplayed” or even “disbelieved”.
The report also shows widespread physical violence and in some countries, violence against children is socially acceptable that it remains unreported. In 2012 alone 95,000 children and teenagers were murdered – a majority of this occurring in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is typically shown that almost 1 billion children worldwide between the ages of two and 14 are regularly subjected to physical punishment.
“We’re speaking about a blunt instrument and repeated.” says Chief of the Youngster Protection Unit at UNICEF, Susan Bissell.
A very detrimental view as to why violence is accepted is the ideology in which the girls are brought up with. Almost half of all the girls worldwide, between the ages of 15-19 believe that their husband or partners are justified in attributing physical harm i.e. hitting or beating. Furthermore, 3 in 10 adults’ believe that physical punishment is necessary in child rearing.
Injury inducing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is also forced on over 125 million women. FGM is fundamentally an attempt to control sexuality and restore the idea of purity. Most girls are cut before the age of five, and have already been subjected marital rape and domestic abuse.
Research has demonstrates how such violence is “detrimental to all aspects of a child’s growth… with sometimes lifelong repercussions.” The health impact violence has against children largely remains underreported and undocumented.
“The more severe the violence, the greater the [suicide] risk,” the study said. The mental health consequences include depression, panic disorder, anxiety and nightmares. The report also tackles the mindsets it says justify such violence. It recommended six strategies for preventing violence against children. They include “supporting parents and equipping children with life skills; changing attitudes; strengthening judicial, criminal and social systems and services; and generating evidence and awareness about violence and its human and socio-economic costs, in order to change attitudes and norms.”