All children have the right to protection. They have the right to survive, to be safe, to belong, to be heard, to receive adequate care and to grow up in a protective environment.
A family is the first line of protection for children. Parents or other caregivers are responsible for building a protective and loving home environment. Schools and communities are responsible for building a safe and child-friendly environment outside the child's home. In the family, school and community, children should be fully protected so they can survive, grow, learn and develop to their fullest potential.
Millions of children are not fully protected. Many of them deal with violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation, exclusion and/or discrimination every day. Such violations limit their chances of surviving, growing, developing and pursuing their dreams.
Any child can be vulnerable to violations in many places, including the home. The actual number of children experiencing violations is not easy to determine. This type of data is hard to collect and is not updated frequently. However, it is estimated that:
Governments, communities, local authorities and non-governmental organizations, including faith-based and community-based organizations, can help ensure that children grow up in a family environment. They can make sure that schools and communities protect all children and prevent child maltreatment. They can protect girls and boys from violations such as abuse, sexual exploitation, trafficking and work in hazardous conditions, as well as harmful practices, including child marriage.
Girls and boys should be encouraged and supported to speak up for children's rights and to take an active role in their own protection against abuse, violence, exploitation and discrimination.
Children grow best in a loving family environment in which their best interests are always taken into account.
If a child is living without a parent or other caregiver, the authorities should take immediate action to reunite the child with her or his own family or extended family. But if it is determined that reunification is not the best option for the child, another permanent family situation should be sought. Every effort should be made to keep siblings together.
Governments, with the support of civil society, have a responsibility to provide appropriate and well-monitored alternative care for children without families. Options include placement with:
Children should be involved in decisions on their placement in alternative living situations.
Very often children placed in institutions could be raised in a family with the proper social support. While some orphanages are well managed, institutional life can be detrimental to children's development. It typically separates them from family and community life and offers less protection from abuse and exploitation.
Any form of institutional care should be considered a last resort and a temporary solution.
Girls and boys can encounter different forms of violence, abuse and/or harmful practices in many settings:
In the family and home:
In schools and other educational activities:
In care and justice institutions (e.g., orphanages, children's homes and detention facilities):
In the community (among peers, between gangs, by the police and by traffickers):
Children who experience or witness violence often remain silent out of fear, shame or stigma. Some accept it as part of life. While some violence is perpetrated by strangers, most is carried out by people children know and should be able to trust and look to for protection. These may include parents, step-parents or a parent's partner, relatives, caregivers, boyfriends and girlfriends, schoolmates, teachers, religious leaders and employers.
All girls and boys can be subjects of abuse. Generally, boys tend to be at greater risk of physical and armed violence and girls face greater risk of neglect and sexual violence and exploitation.
Certain groups of children are particularly vulnerable to violence. These include children with disabilities, children of minority groups, children living or working on the street, children in conflict with the law, and children who are refugees, displaced or migrating.
Babies and young children are sometimes the object of a parent's or other caregiver's anger or frustration, often when children do not stop crying. The caregiver may shake the baby or young child so hard and violently that it causes injury to the child's brain that can lead to permanent injury or death. It is never okay to shake a child. Symptoms of violent shaking include irritability, difficulty staying awake, difficulty breathing, shakiness, vomiting, seizures or coma. These symptoms require immediate medical care.
Typically, the focus is on intervention after child maltreatment occurs. Due to the magnitude of the problem, it is critical that communities shift the emphasis to preventing child violence, abuse, neglect and harmful practices.
Every community should create and implement a plan of action to eliminate violence against children. Some key actions may include:
Children who work often do so to support their families' livelihood so they can eat and have basic necessities. Many children begin working at an early age, as young as 4 years old. In many cases, it is considered normal for children to work long hours before or after school, or to work all day and evening and not attend school at all.
Children can be found working in agriculture, commerce, factories, fishing, markets, housekeeping, childcare, handicrafts, restaurants, garbage dumps and in the streets.
Close to 70 per cent of working children work in agriculture, which can be extremely hazardous. It can involve heavy manual labour, long hours, and the use of pesticides and dangerous tools. Children can be at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation, especially during harvesting season (when they often work extra-long hours) and while working on plantations.
Some children are engaged in the worst forms of child labour, such as child slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, drug production and trafficking. These are illegal. Children must be removed immediately from such situations and, if it is in their best interest, reintegrated into their families and communities.
The work children do should not be hazardous to their health or well-being. It should not prevent children from going to school.
The government and local authorities, with support from families and civil society, should develop measures to address harmful child labour situations, such as:
Families need to know the risks involved in sending their children away for work, such as domestic and agricultural work.
Children and adolescents should be well informed about the dangers of leaving home and taking work that might land them in high-risk situations such as prostitution and drug trafficking.
Children need to be protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
Most children who are sexually abused know their abusers. Most abusers are relatives or acquaintances of the child. A much smaller percentage of offenders are strangers. Most child sexual abuse is committed by men. Whatever the case, sexual abuse or exploitation is never the child's fault. The responsibility always lies with the abuser.
Every person has a unique reaction to sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, regardless of the type, extent or duration. Victims may show a range of emotional responses such as calm, anger, indifference or shock.
Some children may be exposed to life-threatening situations, such as sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Girls may face the added risk of early and unwanted pregnancies that endanger their lives and can subject them to stigma and discrimination.
Children can begin to learn early on about 'good' touch versus 'bad' touch. Children can also be taught to tell an adult they trust if they have experienced a 'bad' touch. If a child comes to an adult with such information, the adult must take the child's claims seriously and immediately ensure that the abuse stops. The abuse should be reported to the authorities, and the child should receive protection services.
Many children and young people who have been victims of sexual abuse or exploitation heal and go on to lead normal lives. Sexual abuse in childhood does not automatically lead to sexually aggressive behaviour. Most sexual offenders have not been sexually abused as children, and most children who are sexually abused do not abuse others.
Governments are responsible for ensuring that systems and specific measures are in place to:
Trafficking of children is one of the fastest growing transnational crimes, occurring in and between countries.
Children who are trafficked are:
It is calculated that the majority of the children trafficked every year are girls who are sexually exploited.
Children and families burdened by poverty and with limited access to information may leave their communities because they believe better opportunities await them elsewhere. Sometimes children are promised a good education, a well-paying job or a better life. Instead they may find themselves smuggled or moved across borders or taken within their own country by traffickers and forced into dangerous situations. These may include domestic servitude, prostitution, forced marriage or begging.
It is important for children and families choosing to leave their communities to understand where they are going. They should know:
Governments can support local authorities and civil society to:
Placing children who have committed crimes or have been accused of committing crimes in a detention centre, prison or reform school or any other closed setting should always be a last resort. Detention can be detrimental to children's development and make reintegration into society more difficult.
Alternatives such as mediation, community service and counselling produce better results for children and their families and communities. Such alternatives are generally more respectful of children's rights and help children learn how to take on a more constructive role in society. This should be the objective of all justice interventions concerning children.
The majority of children in detention have not committed a serious offence. They are often detained for dropping out of school, running away from home, using alcohol, begging or vagrancy. Some children are in detention because they have been exploited by adults through prostitution or drug dealing.
Children can remain in detention for months or years awaiting review of their case. These children are at higher risk of violence and exposure to drugs, HIV infection and other health problems. Detention can interrupt their schooling and distance them from family. Children in detention generally need a social protection response, not a judicial one.
Children who are in detention should:
Pregnant women and mothers with children in detention need special protection, care and support. All children in these circumstances are entitled to protection of their rights, such as access to health care and education.
Child-sensitive procedures for boys and girls should be put in place for child victims and witnesses of crime. Such procedures should:
Households that need income support and social welfare services may be headed by the elderly, widows, children or individuals who are sick or disabled. This can include families affected by HIV.
Income support and social welfare services can provide children and families the means to:
The government and local authorities, with support from civil society, can help identify families in need. They can assist families with income support and social welfare services such as counselling and legal aid. It is important to ensure that families do not face discrimination related to accessing or using the services.
Information on income support and social welfare services can be provided through various communication channels, including health centres, schools and community centres; during community meetings and events; and through radio and loudspeaker announcements.
From a very early age, including during infancy, girls and boys form and express views and interests. As they grow so does their ability to participate in decisions that concern them and their families and communities.
Children and adults should actively and consistently talk to each other, sharing information and ideas in the home, school and community. The exchange should be based on mutual respect. Children's views should be listened to and taken seriously in accordance with the child's age and maturity.
Girls and boys who express their opinions freely are more likely to assume responsibilities, develop critical thinking and communication skills, and make informed decisions as they grow. They are often able to:
Children are avid users, producers and subjects of media, a powerful source for influencing opinion and perceptions among children. Different forms of media can be used responsibly to broaden children's knowledge, inform them on how to protect themselves and develop their citizenship skills.
Children-led associations or clubs can give girls and boys a place to voice their ideas, perspectives and concerns. Such clubs provide an opportunity for them to socialize and develop their interests and leadership skills.