United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children
VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN
IN THE COUNTRIES OF SOUTH ASIA
The problem, actions taken and challenges outstanding
This is one of a series of booklets reporting on the regional consultations organized to contribute to the United Nations Secretary-General‟s Study on Violence against Children.
In preparation for the meetings, all the regions researched the situation in their region and prepared a compilation and analysis of concluding observations by the Committee on the Rights of the Child to country reports submitted by States parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Governments and others also provided information on programmes and projects designed to prevent violence against children, protect them and support those who had fallen victim to it. Governments additionally completed a questionnaire designed to elicit information on the legal frameworks in place to protect children from violence and sanction those responsible for it. Public submissions were sought and input from civil society organizations taken into account. Also, a number of countries held national consultations to prepare for the regional meeting and in many cases the national groups put in place mechanisms to continue efforts to combat violence against children as the Study process continues.
All this preparatory work allowed a clearer picture to be gained not only of what already exists in the areas of protection of children, prevention of violence and support to victims, but also where gaps and challenges remain.
In each region, the participants in the consultation – including children and young people
themselves – developed an outcome document that in most cases was both a statement of intent and also a practical indication of actions that need to be taken. In some regions, countries also developed specific national action plans that they undertook to implement as a matter of priority.
The full reports of the consultations, the background materials prepared for the meetings including government‟s completed questionnaires, the statements of the children and young people and the outcome documents are available on the Study website:
This report contains highlights of the regional consultations and summarizes the background information prepared. Sources and references are to be found in the original materials.
Prepared by June Kane for the Secretariat
UN Secretary-General‟s Study on Violence against Children
Rue de Varembé 9-11
PO Box 48
1211 Geneva 20 CIC
The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the UN Study Secretariat or the regional consultation partners concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
The South Asia regional consultation
“To replace children‟s tears with smiles” – this was the desire that motivated government
ministers, children and young people, representatives of United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), experts, journalists and others who met in Islamabad, Pakistan, on 19 and 20 May 2005.
The children‟s tears would disappear only when violence against children in the region was brought to an end. All sorts of violence: from physical punishment meted out in the guise of discipline to organized trafficking into sexual exploitation; from female foeticide and
infanticide to the violence of malnutrition and neglect; from the growing phenomenon of gang violence in the region‟s cities to the abuse of working children by the people who
Clearly this is an enormous challenge; step by step, however, the challenge has to be met. This meeting, therefore, had a number of practical tasks to complete: a review of the situation of violence against children in the South Asia region; analysis of the laws in place; an exchange of experience and good practice; and the development of recommendations for a plan outlining priority actions for the region.
No-one knows better than children the violence that they face in their daily lives. No-one understands better the impact violence has on their lives. No-one can see so clearly what must be done to end that violence.
The children and young people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka who participated in the regional consultation had prepared for it in a two-day meeting on 17 and 18 May. Their contribution was to be significant: no-one knows better than children the violence that they face in their daily lives. No-one understands better the impact violence has on their lives. No-one can see so clearly what must be done to end that violence.
In her keynote address the First Lady of Pakistan, Begum Sehba Pervez Musharraf, called upon participants to support the children present in their endeavours to play a leading role in ridding society of exploitation and violence. She noted that no society or religion approves of violence against children and that, in this region where 48 per cent of the population is made up of children, more needs to be invested in their well-being.
The representative of the host government, H.E. Ms Zobaida Jalal, Minister for Social Welfare and Special Education, pointed out that ignorance and denial are among the reasons for violence and that the media have a role to play in making people aware of the rights that children have.
Those present at the meeting also heard from Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Independent Expert appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General to prepare the Study on Violence against children. Professor Pinheiro noted that violence is present in every country and cuts across boundaries of culture, class, ethnic origin and age. The growing use of the Internet has also broken down barriers not only for the good of children but also putting them at risk of those who abuse the Internet for cybercrime, including stalking children and distributing child pornography. Even in the face of new challenges, however, Professor Pinheiro reminded the meeting that much violence is absolutely preventable and that we should not wait until it occurs but act to prevent it.
The will to act was underscored by Mr Mohammed Naseer, Director Social Affairs of the Secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). He said that political commitment to ending violence against children was evident in the work done in the region to prepare two SAARC Conventions on Child Welfare and Prevention of Trafficking. These entered into force in September 2005 when Nepal, the last country to ratify, announced at the SAARC Summit held in Dhaka that it had competed ratification.
A declaration prepared by the representatives of children and young people of the region brought the first day‟s formal presentations to an end. The 13 girls and 12 boys had focused
their discussions on psychological punishment, gender-based violence and child sexual abuse, priorities that were also to dominate discussions during the regional consultation itself. They discussed the causes of violence and the nature of the violence that children face. They also shared some actions that children themselves were engaged in, and gave their recommendations:
; Adults should listen to children‟s suggestions on how to address violence against
children and activate them;
; Governments must bring the laws concerning children in line with the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and make sure that they are strictly
; Task forces should be created all over the country to end violence;
; There should be regular consultations with parents and community leaders, and
children‟s committees should be created and consulted;
; Child-related laws should be developed to stop violence against children;
; Parents, teachers, NGOs and children should be involved in programmes to address
violence against children, and the community should bring pressure on government
administrations to stop violence;
; Government should use existing governmental and NGO bodies to stop violence
; Parents‟ awareness of the CRC should be raised by establishing a parents‟ association
in the community so that they can raise their voices on violence against girls and
; Parents should be more connected with their children – listen to them and see things
from their point of view;
; The media should not use the names, pictures and addresses of children who have
; More child-friendly information and materials on violence against girls and boys, and
preventing it, should be produced;
; Children who are part of children‟s clubs, task forces, child parliaments and child
media groups should be trained on violence against children so that they can train
more children to end violence;
; Children need to be informed of the responsibilities that come with rights so that
they also do not abuse other children.
The children and young people also made recommendations relating to each of the specific issues they had discussed. These are included in the final section of this report.
Violence against children in South Asia
One in every five people on this planet lives in South Asia. It is one of the most populous regions in the world. It is also one of the poorest. Nevertheless, there has been progress in the economies of most of the countries in the region. In many ways children in South Asia are better off than they were even five years ago: they are born healthier, are more likely to live to see their fifth birthday, have better access to education and have higher hopes than the generation that came before them.
Children in South Asia also benefit from the positive child-rearing traditions of the region: respect for parents and elders is strong and the exchange of ideas and transmission of wisdom between the generations remains important.
But the challenges facing South Asia are great. Nature has not been kind to this region. The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami wiped away towns and villages; earthquakes are frequent and deadly. Floods and cyclones threaten a number of the countries each year. The indicators of social development reflect these challenges, and 45 per cent of the population of South Asia lives on less than one dollar a day.
One in every five people on this planet lives in South Asia. It is one of the
most populous regions in the world. It is also one of the poorest.
And yet, the biggest challenge facing the region may come from its people. Despite relative stability, a number of countries remain in the grip of politically or ethnically motivated armed struggles. Communist rebels continue to disrupt everyday life in Nepal. The aftermath of war in Afghanistan has serious repercussions for the people of that country. And despite a ceasefire between the government and the Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka is struggling to overcome the dislocation that years of conflict have caused. Relationships among many religious communities are based on mistrust. Civilians are the largest category of gun owners and boast more small arms than the police, the military and the insurgents together. This proliferation of weapons creates a general culture of violence and it is in this context that violence against children is too readily used and tolerated.
Children are abused and exploited regardless of their social class, their religion, and their ethnic origin. Reliable data is lacking on most forms of violence against children, though, and what does exist tends to relate to just one form of violence or one limited geographical area. Building up a picture of violence against children across the region is therefore difficult.
It is known that the highest numbers of child victims of violence in the region are those who suffer at the hands of parents and close relatives. Often this violence is in the guise of „discipline‟. Children bear the physical scars of harsh treatment, including beatings and confinement or deprivation, but they also bear the psychological scars of violence inflicted by people they know and should be able to trust. Abusive families are protected by the common belief that what happens in the family home is „private‟; as a result, no-one
intervenes on the child‟s behalf and the violence goes largely unreported.
Although the indications are that boys are more often the target of physical punishment, girls are singled out for violent treatment, beginning even before they are born, for the very fact that they are girls. Female foetuses are aborted because the preference is for sons. Girl children are neglected and sometimes allowed or helped to die. A number of traditional practices subject girls to various forms of abuse, including some quasi-religious traditions in which girls are introduced to a life of sexual servitude.
The power relationship between parent/elder and child that flourishes in the home also occurs in the school environment. This has not been well documented, and private institutions such as madrassas and monasteries are particularly difficult to
investigate. However children report that they suffer violent treatment at the hands of teachers and other educators, again most often as a form of „discipline‟, but also more
randomly. Only one country in the region, Sri Lanka, has laws banning corporal punishment in schools.
In the face of violence in the home and at school, children may simply run away and begin a life on the streets. There they face violence too. In many urban areas of the region, there has been an increase in gang violence, where both perpetrators and victims are adolescents and young adults. Gang rape is reported to be on the increase in some countries and often this has political or ethnic underpinnings.
But the options for a child who does not feel safe with the family or on the streets are not easy. Institutionalization is not necessarily the answer, although in the region it is too often proposed as the solution. As in other regions, there is anecdotal evidence that violence also occurs in the institutions that are set up to provide protection for children, but this is also difficult to document. Governments are reluctant to admit that the abuse of children in both state and private institutions does occur, and information is not systematically collected. Private institutions or organizations are often not registered or monitored. Children are sent to penal institutions because of shortcomings in juvenile justice legislation or procedures. These children, as others who find themselves in some sort of institutional care, are to some extent forgotten by governments, civil society, child welfare organizations and indeed the community at large. It is not surprising, therefore, that there is a real lack of programmes and lessons relating to how these children can be supported and protected.
The children of South Asia are also at risk of entering work prematurely for a number of reasons. It is common for families to send children to work in order to supplement the family income. School is often seen as not useful, especially by parents who did not go to school themselves, and sometimes school is just too far away, too expensive or not effective. Even where schooling is „free‟, there are often hidden or other costs, including those
imposed by underpaid teachers who supplement their own incomes by charging for school supplies or other services. Putting a child to work and depriving that child of the opportunities that education offers increases their vulnerability and deprives them of their rights.
What is certain is that working children are by definition at high risk of exploitation and violence. They are in a subservient situation and at the whim not only of employers but also co-workers. They generally have to do much the same work as adults, despite their physical
and psychological immaturity. When they fail to perform as adults, they are frequently punished. This may take the form of physical violence, including beatings, being locked up, sometimes even being burned; or it may take the form of extreme psychological violence including being called bad names, being screamed at or otherwise humiliated.
Because many working children have not reached the legal minimum age for work, they tend to be found in informal sectors that are not regulated and are often on the fringes of the law. Children may be exploited in the worst forms of child labour including in prostitution, drug trafficking and in bonded labour. These children are at particularly high risk of violence not only because of the nature of the activity itself but also because they may be treated as criminals by society and as liabilities by those who employ them. Also in a particularly high-risk situation are the many thousands of girls and boys in the region who work as domestic helpers in the homes of third parties. Hidden behind the closed doors of the private home, these children are often treated less like children than like household equipment, devoid of rights and open to the worst forms of exploitation and violence.
Why does violence occur?
Violence against children rarely happens as an isolated event. The seeds of violence most often take root in conditions that both promote violence and
also tolerate it when it does occur.
Violence against children rarely happens as an isolated event. The seeds of violence most often take root in conditions that both promote violence and also tolerate it when it does occur. Within this general context, some children are more vulnerable to violence than others, and there are generally trigger factors that give rise to the particular act or relationship of violence.
In South Asia, as in other parts of the world, violence against children happens in all social classes. The fact that a family is poor is not in itself a determining factor, although poverty often contributes to stresses on the family that increase a child‟s vulnerability to a number of abuses, including violence. Young, single, poor or unemployed parents are statistically more likely to resort to violent behaviour. Unrealistic expectations about child development, stress and social isolation have also been linked to abusive behaviour by parents. There is also a close link between domestic violence and child abuse. Perpetrators of violence against children may have a history of previous abuse, and low educational attainment and substance abuse may increase the likelihood of abusive behaviour.
In poor families, children may face discrimination and neglect, especially when food is scarce, and in such situations girls‟ welfare is often sacrificed because boys are seen as more valuable. Poverty, including the „temporary poverty‟ that arises when an adult family member becomes sick or unemployed, or when natural disaster strikes or the family otherwise finds itself in crisis, makes all children but especially girl children, vulnerable to trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labour or other exploitative labour. Girls in particular may be
forced into early marriage, as the dowry for younger girls is likely to be lower in this region, and young girls who find themselves in an abusive marriage may nevertheless stay in it because they see no other choice.
The strong patriarchal and hierarchical system based on unequal power structures in South Asia both allows and accepts the oppression of certain groups based on caste, class and ethnicity, but also gender and age. In this system, women and girls are lower in the hierarchy than men and boys; children are lower than adults. Pressures to conform to these hierarchical relationships mean that many men play out the role to demonstrate to other men that they can wield power over their wives and children. The same power structures come to play in non-family communities such as schools and religious groupings, where teachers or religious elders dominate children and female members of the community in general.
Additionally, South Asian societies believe firmly in the sanctity of the family and the privacy of family life. This is an expression of the individual‟s right to privacy and free choice but, when such attitudes override other fundamental rights, children are at increased risk of violence in the home. Neighbours and others will hesitate to report violence that they suspect or know may be happening in the home and, in any case, law enforcement officials will be reluctant to intervene. Most legal systems do not give automatic right of entry into a private home without a special warrant or in quite specific circumstances. In the privacy of the home, therefore, where the man is master, both women and children are vulnerable to violence and extreme „discipline‟.
Women and girl children are also vulnerable to maltreatment and indeed extreme forms of abuse in some cultural practices and the interpretation of religion. The notion of the female as temptress puts the onus of blame on her and is used to justify the actions of perpetrators. The presence of a woman can be seen as polluting and some religious communities consider women and girls as impure, especially during menstruation. Hindu and Muslim girls and women are not allowed to enter the temple or mosque at such times, and in some Hindu communities girls and women avoid visiting households with sick members for fear they will be blamed for the illness.
Despite progress in some countries of the region, South Asia remains largely gender unequal and insensitive. Although social development statistics suggest that in Sri Lanka and the Maldives girls and women are faring better than in the past, throughout the region the indicators show that life expectancy for women and girls is lower than in other parts of the world. The adult literacy rate of girls and women is only 64 per cent of that of men and boys, and compares unfavourably to a ratio of 82:100 for the world as a whole. Primary school enrolment for girls compared to boys is lower than in any other region and figures relating to contraception and birth attendance are poor.
These factors underline the vulnerability of girls and women to discrimination and violence that is gender-related. This discrimination begins before their birth and continues throughout their life. Girls are at higher risk of infanticide. Their basic needs may be neglected, especially in times of family crisis. Girls find it harder to tap into the social capital and their mobility and health relationships with adults outside the family are limited. Social
acceptance of the role and place of women, and at the very least condoning of their subservient status, allows gender-related violence to continue.
Girls are at greater risk, too, of sexual abuse and exploitation, although boys too are abused. In some parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, sex with boys is considered less of an offence than sex with girls. In general across the region sexual abuse and exploitation go unreported because of the shame associated with them. Children themselves fear speaking out because they understand the stigma attached to the victim and because the social and penal systems often work in favour of the perpetrator. He may falsely accuse the abused child, or in some instances even offer marriage in order to legitimize his crime.
These extreme forms of violence and denial of children‟s rights are not generally condoned in the societies of South Asia, although they may be quietly tolerated because they are seen as too difficult to deal with. Physical punishment, on the other hand, is so pervasive in South Asia that until recently it was not considered worthy of attention. Many people refused to see corporal punishment as a form of violence and indeed a consensus on what constitutes violence against children is still lacking.
Extreme forms of violence and denial of children’s rights are not generally condoned in the societies of South Asia, although they may be quietly
tolerated because they are seen as too difficult to deal with. Physical
punishment, on the other hand, is so pervasive in South Asia that until
recently it was not considered worthy of attention.
Obedience by children is seen as an overarching imperative and elders are treated with the utmost respect. Punishment is accepted and sometimes preferred as a way of teaching children their place in this scheme, and obedience is imposed through physical violence in the home and at school. The belief that boys in particular need greater physical discipline to prepare them to take on the roles and responsibilities of manhood contributes to the acceptance of physical abuse and entrenched gender stereotypes.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that there is even less attention paid to emotional abuse or psychological violence of children. The impact on the child of humiliation, name-calling, taunts and threats is often ignored but can be severe. Anxiety, anger, vindictiveness, hopelessness, low self-esteem, sadness and depression can result and can prevent children from thriving, learning and developing.
Witnessing violence and discrimination by their parents, siblings and members of the extended family or caregivers can also be traumatic. Such trauma is in itself harmful but also increases children‟s vulnerability to violence.
What is being done to stop violence against children?
All the governments in the region have made commitments to end violence against children by ratifying or signing international agreements that, among other things, relate to children‟s right to be protected from violence, to eliminate gender discrimination and end child labour.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1990) contains a general prohibition against all forms of violence against children (Article 19). The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) requires States parties to take measures to eliminate gender discrimination and to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against women (Article 2). ILO Convention (1999) No.182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour is aimed at the elimination of the worst forms of child labour and calls for immediate withdrawal of child victims of such forms and support to help them rebuild their lives free of exploitation. The ILO Minimum Age Convention (1973) No.138 further aims to ensure that no child below the national legal age for work should be in child labour.
All the countries of South Asia, except Afghanistan, have adopted the 1996 Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action against commercial sexual exploitation of children, through which they commit themselves to preventing sexual violence against children and to helping those children who are sexually exploited. Other international agreements also have relevance to commitments to end violence against children, including the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protocol Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (the Palermo Protocol) which aims to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.
Governments have also signalled their determination to end violence against children through a number of regional initiatives. All the countries of South Asia except Afghanistan meet under the umbrella of SAARC, which has identified women, children and youth as a key area of cooperation. The 2002 SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia calls upon States parties to: “ensure that their national laws protect the child from any form of discrimination, abuse, neglect, exploitation, torture or degrading treatment, trafficking and violence”. The Convention also includes provisions on child labour, birth registration and the minimum age for employment and marriage. SAARC has also adopted a convention against trafficking of women and children into prostitution.
nd World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of In preparation for the 2
Children in Yokohama, Japan, in December 2001, the South Asian nations developed a regional strategy on sexual abuse and exploitation of children and then updated this in a regional review meeting held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in September 2004. At that meeting,
the eight South Asian countries present also developed national priority action plans and undertook to implement them as a matter of urgency.
Agreements are a rallying point around which government departments, civil society organizations, international agencies and others can organize their programming, work together and share knowledge and experiences on
These various agreements and the process of regular meetings to review progress provide the framework in which national and regional actions can be planned, and signal