Government leaders and representatives from 25 countries in East Asia and the Pacific reinforced their commitment to ending violence against children during a virtual conference hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) from November 01 to 05, 2021. The Cambodian delegation had a strong presence with nearly 80 people: 26 Government representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation and all other Ministries engaged in the implementation of the Action Plan to Prevent and Respond to Violence Against Children, 33 representatives from UN agencies, NGOs and donors, and 18 adolescent and youth spokespeople.

According to UNICEF’s press release, the five-day conference, organized in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, aimed to place ending violence against children high on the recovery agenda, while drawing on the framework of INSPIRE: seven strategies for ending violence against children developed by WHO, UNICEF and other partners to drive forward evidence-based action.

It is estimated that up to 1 billion children globally experience some form of violence each year, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect and bullying. Violence occurs in many settings, including the home, school, community and online, and is perpetrated by family members, intimate partners, teachers, neighbours, strangers and other children. Such violence inflicts harm, pain and humiliation on children; it also kills.

Survey data have consistently shown that the prevalence of violence against children in the home has significantly increased since the start of the pandemic as containment measures were imposed and schools were closed.

Over 375 million children in East Asia and the Pacific faced school closures for longer than 30 days, and online learning became a critical component of education and social connectedness for many children across the region. However, the increased exposure to digital technology has also led to a rise in online child exploitation and abuse. Furthermore, the pandemic has taken a significant toll on the mental health of children, young people and their caregivers.

While countries are easing pandemic control measures, this does not guarantee safety for children; far from it. The socioeconomic fallout will continue to impact already vulnerable families and exacerbate risks of violence, abuse, harmful practices and exploitation. As shrinking budgets come under the strain of competing priorities for the recovery, cuts in public and donor financing of welfare and protection services are inevitable without urgent action.

“As we near the end of 2021, we have identified many important lessons. One is the need to ensure that children are not left behind, and that violence prevention and response efforts are centred in COVID-19 response and recovery strategies,” said Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

A key pillar of the conference was ensuring that the voices and recommendations of young people were heard by participants. “My message to Governments and every international organisation is that I hope that you will continuously support, listen and work hand in hand, and join forces as one to help protect young people and children from violence” said Sar Sopanha, youth representative from Cambodia.

Government leaders and country representatives participating in the conference identified key actions that need to be taken to protect children from violence during COVID-19 and beyond, including plugging the data gap in the region so that the prevalence of violence against children in all settings is known, and making mental well-being and prevention of violence an integral part of the learning recovery agenda as students go back to school. A growing body of evidence shows that violence in schools not only contributes to children dropping out, but also negatively impacts learning outcomes.

Rapidly expanding investment in mental health and well-being of children, young people and their caregivers is also needed to effectively prevent and mitigate the impact of violence. Moreover, it is critical to ensure that social protection support for families goes hand in hand with positive parenting programmes. Furthermore, the strategies must be underpinned by strengthening social services, justice and health workforce and systems to ensure they have the capacity to protect children from violence.

“Violence against children is preventable. There is ever-growing evidence on what works to effectively prevent and respond to violence against children in all settings. What is required is the political will to translate this into action for children and we welcome the commitments made by Governments and regional leaders during the conference,” said Marcoluigi Corsi, UNICEF Regional Director a.i., East Asia and Pacific.

“The conference has highlighted the urgent need to ensure that ending violence against children is an integral part of the COVID-19 recovery agenda for Governments, donors and stakeholders across the region. The voices of children and young people must be central to shaping this agenda – I urge all stakeholders in the region to ensure the meaningful engagement of children and young people in the design and delivery of measures to address violence – no meaningful change is possible without them,” said Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence Against Children.

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press

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