Marta Santos Pais, special representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children, was recently in Cambodia for the launch of the report of the Cambodia Violence against Children Survey. This op-ed is an adapted excerpt of her presentation.
I congratulate the government of Cambodia for conducting the ground-breaking Violence against Children Survey. It is an outstanding example of how research can bring to light the hidden reality of violence against children and it lays the foundation for an evidence based policy agenda.
In 2014, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Cambodia acceded in 1992, the protection of children from violence has gained increasing global priority. There has been an incremental development of legislative and policy reform, and enhancements in child protection systems. However, even as we celebrate these notable achievements, we must also recognise that progress has been too slow, too uneven and too fragmented to make a genuine breakthrough. Children remain at risk of violence in every setting, including those where they should feel safest – in schools, in care and justice institutions, and within the home.
Ending violence against children is an ethical imperative, but it also makes economic sense. Besides its impact on victims and their families, violence has high costs for society: around the world it is diverting billions of dollars from social spending, slowing economic development, eroding human and social capital, and severely limiting children from reaching their full potential.
Urgent action is needed and here are six key steps that Cambodia can take to realise its commitment to eliminate violence against children.
Develop a national, child-centred, integrated, multidisciplinary and time-bound strategy to address violence against children.
Take all necessary steps to mainstream the protection of children from violence at all levels of government and include it as a core component of the national development agenda. Ensure that relevant professionals have adequate training on child-sensitive violence prevention and response mechanisms, and receive guidance on violence prevention, reporting and response. Crucially, provide the necessary funding to enable these initiatives to succeed.
Enact an explicit legal ban on violence against children backed by effective enforcement.
The legal prohibition of violence against children should capture all its manifestations, including in emerging areas such as abuse of new information and communication technologies. Government must invest in law enforcement, in family- and child-sensitive judicial systems, and in strong, supportive child protection systems and services.
Increase efforts to make violence against kids socially unacceptable.
Eliminating violence against children requires change in deep-rooted attitudes and behaviour that sees it as acceptable, especially as a form of discipline within the family and in schools and institutions. Mobilising all stakeholders, including community and religious leaders, to raise awareness and build upon positive social norms can overcome entrenched beliefs.
Ensure the social inclusion of girls and boys who are at special risk in the prevention and response to violence against children.
Families must be supported so that they are able to adequately care for their children. This will help prevent child abandonment and stop the placement of children in residential care where they may be at increased risk of violence. This is especially important for children under three years of age whose development can be severely compromised by institutionalisation. Investment in positive parenting, systems of social protection and early childhood care and development should be given priority attention and funding.
Build or enhance strong data systems and sound evidence to prevent and address violence against children.
Monitoring tools and indicators must be developed that cover all children, including boys and girls of every age and background. Universal birth registration is the first and most crucial component of an effective monitoring system.
Join with other governments to put the protection of children from violence at the heart of the post-2015 international development agenda.
As the international community considers the future global development agenda and formulates the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, violence against children, including among the most vulnerable and marginalised girls and boys, must be made a priority and recognised as a cross-cutting concern.Explicit targets on the elimination of all forms of violence against children and clear indicators and monitoring mechanisms must be part of the post-2015 agenda. I am confident that Cambodia will continue to lend its support to this international effort.
Ending violence against children requires a global effort on an unprecedented scale – an effort that includes political leaders, ordinary citizens, as well as children and young people.
This year of celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a golden opportunity to boost this effort and place the protection of children at the heart of the policy agenda. By translating the results of its survey into concrete action towards the ending of violence against children, the royal government of Cambodia can be a leader in the region and beyond. It will also be showing its commitment to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the wellbeing of children in Cambodia.
Marta Santos Pais was appointed as special representative of the secretary-general on violence against children in May 2009. She has 30 years’ experience dealing with human rights issues.