Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fearing Wrong: A global study on violence against children

Many people around the world are concerned about a perceived increase of violence against children, and its causes. But do their perceptions line up with reality?

Finding the answer to this question was the goal of a recent study (download PDF) commissioned by World Vision and conducted by Ipsos Reid. Here are some of the very interesting findings:

People around the world believe that violence against children can be tackled if more is done by governments, communities and religious institutions — with a special focus on supporting families. Perhaps most surprising, the majority (61%) of people think that “out there” — public transportation and other public places — is where children are most likely to be at risk.

The sad truth is, immediate family members are the most common perpetrators of all forms of abuse, accounting for 34% of reported cases where the perp was known.

Is violence against children on the increase? 61% feel that in the past five years violence against children in their country has increased. Results are mixed, but the truth is that some forms of violence are decreasing. Harmful traditional practices are declining; there are fewer child laborers than 12 years ago. And the proportion of girls forced into early marriage is better than it was in the 1980s.

What are the most common forms of violence against children? Public perception is that physical and sexual forms of violence are the most common. And this is accurate: Globally, one in four girls aged 15 to 19 have been victims of some form of physical violence. Around 120 million  girls worldwide have experienced sexual violence.


Among developed countries, cyber-bullying is perceived to be the most common form of violence against children. But in reality, physical and sexual abuse are usually more common than cyber-bullying. It's also perceived that cyber-bullying affects mostly girls; but in truth there is increasing evidence that cyber-bullying affects both girls and boys, and that both are just as likely to act as bullies.

There is also a perception that no one form of violence affects mostly boys. Yet the truth is, boys are more affected by gang violence and child labor than girls are – 99.8 million boys versus 68.2 million girls between the ages of 5 - 17 are involved in child labor.

Gang Violence

In middle-income countries, gang violence is thought to be the most common form of violence against children. And this is an accurate perception.

Child Labor

What about child labor? 79% believe child labor is harmful, but 28% of people do not believe that harm will have a long-lasting impact. In reality, though, child labor affects a child’s long-term health and the development of their cognitive skills, damaging their educational ability and long-term prospects.

Forced Child Marriage

Not surprisingly, views diverged significantly along country lines, although this divergence was less pronounced when economic factors were taken into consideration. On early, forced child marriage, 29% of people say the practice doesn’t have a long-lasting impact. But the truth is that girls who marry under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die during childbirth than those who marry in their 20s, and their education and literacy chances are lower, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Violence in Fragile Contexts

When it comes to fragile contexts, harmful traditional practices such as witchcraft and child marriage are perceived as the most common source of violence. Yet other forms of violence are often more pervasive. In the DRC, for example, over one in five girls aged 15 - 19 have experienced forced sexual intercourse.

For more resources about the survey and child violence, check out this Storify document. Or visit World Vision's website to help combat child violence in all its forms.

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