Engaging migrant communities in the promotion of the rights of the child
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By the end of this module you will be able to:
- Identify the different forms of violence against children
- Restate the set of the seven evidence-based strategies for countries and communities working to eliminate violence against children, called INSPIRE
Violence against children is happening everywhere. No matter the country, class, colour of skin, culture or religion. It can appear in schools, streets, homes, parties or even in care and detention centres. Additionally, the social status, ethnic origin, race, gender or disability of a child can make some of them extremely vulnerable. Perpetrators most of the times are persons who the child knows and trusts more, like parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, priests and other children. The cost of violence can be catastrophic, as it poses a major threat to the children’s health, to their mental and physical development, and it can leave some horrible emotional scars. It can also lead to early death from, usually, suicide.
Types of violence against children
The Council of Europe (CoE) identifies six main types of violence against children and emphasises the fact that most of the times children can be involved in more than one type, at a different stage of their development.
To start with, corporal punishment represents the most widespread form of violence against children. According to the CoE, corporal punishment can be any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort. Though, not only is carrying the wrong message to children, but at the same time it can cause some severe physical and psychological harm. This can happen at school, at home and in any other location.
The right to live without violence or threat constitutes one of the most basic human rights principles. This right is guaranteed to all the children from article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, has emphasised that effective protection of human rights requires the elimination of all corporal punishment and all cruel treatment of children.
Adding to that, CoE is urging all member states to adopt a legal prohibition of corporal punishment of children in law and in practice. Countries who have already did that are encouraged to share all good practices they have developed through audio-visual and campaign materials, publications, training materials and other useful tools.
Worth mentioning is the European awareness-raising initiative against corporal punishment of children “Raise your hand against smacking”, which was launched by the Council of Europe in June 2008. The campaign aims at banning corporal punishment of children, promoting positive parenting and raising awareness surrounding children’s rights throughout Europe.
Domestic violence can be expressed in different forms: physical, psychological or sexual violence. Whether children are witnesses of domestic violence or victims themselves, it clearly violates their human rights and can have a damaging effect on their development and wellbeing. By being exposed to domestic violence, children are denied their right to live in a secure and stable home environment.
The Istanbul Convention, or better the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, demands from all states who have signed the convention to prevent violence against children and women, to protect the victims and to prosecute all the offenders. The Convention underlines that when the offence is committed in the presence or against the child, harsher sentences are required.
It also protects witnesses and, in case of a child witness of violence, it requires states to take all appropriate measures by providing age-appropriate psychosocial therapy and ensuring that all support is based on the best interests of the child.
The Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) monitors the implementation of the Convention by assessing the different measures taken by state parties.
Sexual violence includes non-consensual completed or attempted sexual contact and acts of a sexual nature not involving contact (such as voyeurism or sexual harassment); acts of sexual trafficking committed against someone who is unable to consent or refuse; and online exploitation.
Available data suggests that about one in five children in Europe are victims of some form of sexual violence. It is estimated that in 70%-85% of cases, the abuser is somebody the child knows and trusts. Child sexual violence can take place in many forms:
- Sexual abuse within the family circle
- Child pornography and prostitution
- Solicitation via the Internet
- Sexual assault by peers
According to UNICEF, at least 120 million girls under the age of 20 – about 1 in 10 – have been forced to have sex or perform other sexual acts, although the actual figure is much higher. Roughly 90% of adolescent girls who reported being forced to have sex say that their first perpetrator was someone they knew, in most cases a boyfriend or a husband.
Even though the numbers have been rising throughout the years, most cases go unreported as many victims of sexual violence, including both boys and girls, do not share any information regarding the abuse. Disclosure, on the other hand can take years and reliable statistics are difficult to be obtained.
The CoE Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention) contains all the measures needed to prevent sexual violence, protect children and prosecute the abusers. The Lanzarote Convention is the first international treaty to address all forms of sexual violence against children. Its trademark is the so-called four “P” approach: prevention of violence, protection of child victims, prosecution of offenders, and the promotion of partnerships and participation policies. In addition, it notably requests the screening and training of professionals who are in contact with children, sexual education and awareness raising, as well as intervention programmes for potential perpetrators.
Violence in schools
One of the most noticeable forms of violence against children, is the violence that takes place in schools, and it can range from physical to psychological violence. Children who are exposed to it may experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), physical injury but also more extreme results such as sexually transmitted infections and even suicidal thoughts. It is also possible for children to start showing signs of aggressive, anti-social behaviour and putting themselves into risky situations. According to UNICEF, children who grow up around violence have a greater chance of replicating it for a new generation of victims.
Moreover, violence in the school environment can reduce school attendance, result to lower academic performance and increase drop-out rates. The consequences can be damaging, not only for the prosperity and safety of the child, but also their families and entire communities. If the children are not feeling safe within the school and are constantly living with fear of more violence, schools cannot fulfil their role and be successfully considered as safe places of learning, socialisation and development.
Education plays a vital role in the prevention and abolition of violence in schools. Taking this into account, the CoE Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education is providing all European Union member states with a tool, in order to fight any form of violence and discrimination, especially bullying and harassment. The specific charter has been approved by all member states.
In addition to that, in order to prevent and combat all types of violence against children in schools, the CoE works in close cooperation with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (SRSG). In 2011 a high-level meeting was held on tackling violence in schools, where experts highlighted the importance of encouraging all people involved in education to cooperate, address violence in schools and ensure that they are a safe haven for children, for both their personal development and learning. The specific meeting provided a good input into the creation of the global report of the SRSG, “Tackling violence in Schools. Bridging the gap between standards and practice” (Office of the SRSG on Violence against Children, 2016).
Bullying (including cyber-bullying)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines bullying as “an unwanted aggressive behaviour by another child or group of children who are neither siblings nor in a romantic relationship with the victim”. It involves repeated physical, psychological or social harm, and often takes place in schools and other settings where children gather. It can also include sexual violence, threats, teasing, social exclusion or other forms of psychological violence.
Bullying can lead to significant and lasting problems to both, the children who are bullied and the perpetrators, meaning those who bully. Most of the times, the presence of bullying itself, can be a sign of a cruel behaviour that the children observed or received elsewhere.
Due to the widespread use of technology in our times, face-to-face bullying and cyber-bullying often happen alongside each other. The only difference between cyber-bullying and bullying is the fact that the former is happening with the use of digital technologies. It can take place through different platforms of messaging and gaming, on social media and mobile phones. Examples of cyber-bullying include, amongst others the spread of lies and rumours about someone, posting of humiliating or inappropriate photos on social media and also threats towards another. Cyber-bullying can be a constant behaviour, aimed to create a feeling of shame, anger and scare to those who are targeted. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that perpetrators who choose the form of cyber-bullying, can easily leave a digital footprint – in other words, a record that with the correct guidance can be very useful in providing strong evidence about the behaviour of the abuser.
The CoE stresses out that the prevention of bullying begins by educating children about the harmful effects of bullying as well as by stressing the fact that their actions have an impact on others and at the same time, consequences on themselves. Therefore, the CoE has been promoting a variety of school human rights and citizenship education programmes in an endeavour to tackle both bullying and violence in schools. These programmes are based on the principles of the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights which all 47 member states have adopted.
The efforts that the CoE has been doing in combatting bullying, and more specifically the Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation, has created tools which can be used in the fight against bullying. These include child-friendly and educational material for education professionals to use in schools, such as the Compasito manual on human rights education for children (Council of Europe, 2009).
Trafficking occurs when children are forced, tricked or convinced to leave their homes, transported somewhere else and are either being forced to work, are exploited or are being sold to someone. Most of the times, children are trafficked for forced labour, to commit crimes like theft or begging, sexual exploitation, benefit fraud, forced marriage or work in drug farms. Traffickers are using emotional, physical and sexual abuse as an ultimate form of control, so that to convince the children that they have no alternatives and to lack the motivation to escape.
Trafficking is considered a violation of human rights and impacts the lives of numerous children around the world since it takes from them the basic rights of education, rest and leisure, the right to preserve their identity and to not be subjects of punishment.
The CoE Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings seeks to prevent and protect victims of trafficking, to act against traffickers and to promote coordination of actions in national and international level. The Convention is also providing special measures and procedures for children in the context of victim identification and requires that assistance provided to child victims be adapted to their special needs.
Prevention and response
As mentioned earlier, violence against children can be prevented. In order to prevent and respond in the best possible way, collective efforts are required to methodically address all risk and protective elements in an individual and community level.
Under the direction of WHO, a group of ten international agencies have developed and endorsed an evidence-based technical package called INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children. The package intends to assist countries achieve SDG Target 16.2 on ending violence against children. Each letter of the word INSPIRE stands for one of the strategies.
The seven strategies are:
- Implementation and enforcement of laws (for example, banning violent discipline and restricting access to alcohol and firearms);
- Norms and values change (for example, altering norms that condone the sexual abuse of girls or aggressive behaviour among boys);
- Safe environments (such as identifying neighbourhood “hot spots” for violence and then addressing the local causes through problem-oriented policing and other interventions);
- Parental and caregiver support (for example, providing parent training to young, first-time parents);
- Income and economic strengthening (such as microfinance and gender equity training);
- Response services provision (for example, ensuring that children who are exposed to violence can access effective emergency care and receive appropriate psychosocial support); and
- Education and life skills (such as ensuring that children attend school, and providing life and social skills training).
It is in our hands to make a difference.
Council of Europe (2009), Compasito. Manual on human rights education for children. Accessed on 07.10.2022 from: http://www.eycb.coe.int/compasito/pdf/Compasito%20EN.pdf
Office of the SRSG on Violence against Children (2016), Tackling violence in schools. A global perspective. Bridging the gap between standards and practice. Accessed on 07.10.2022 from: https://violenceagainstchildren.un.org/sites/violenceagainstchildren.un.org/files/documents/publications/10._tackling_violence_in_schools_a_global_perspective.pdf