Children need a seat at table in global campaign to end violence against them

Wednesday, 4 September 2019 11:41 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Major new global survey of children shows they want a far bigger role in trying to stop violence against them

Jose Maria Faura is CEO of Educo, an international children’s organisation and a member of the Childfund Alliance

It’s hard to imagine a more terrifying place for a young girl than the infamous Kamathipura red-light district in Mumbai. Yet up until the age of seven, these squalid streets lined with sex workers and shady characters were where, Priya* used to spend her days and nights, often barely clothed in the searing heat, while her mother worked in a nearby brothel. 

Priya’s mother is a survivor of sex trafficking, sold to the brothel by a fellow villager who had promised her a job then betrayed her. She was beaten and held captive, and eventually forced into prostitution. Every day Priya roamed the dusty lanes around Falkland Road killing time until her mother would take her home. And every day she became more and more likely to come to the attention of local pimps scouting for victims. Girls like her were regularly sold into the sex industry, or trafficked into India’s massive child workforce. It was just a matter of time for Priya. 

Forced sex is one of the most abhorrent forms of violence imaginable, and the fate of more than 15 million adolescent girls around the world. And these 15 million children are among almost one billion children who experience some type of violence each year. 

That was when staff from a local partner NGO Prerana fortunately reached out to Priya, before her life could be put at greater risk. They contacted Priya’s mother and provided support to both of them. Priya went to a night care centre for the children of sex workers, took part in an education program and was then enrolled in formal schooling. 

Suddenly her future was on a different course. 

But while Priya was lucky enough to escape, millions of children around the world are not. They have their futures ripped away by violence every day, often by the adults who are meant to protect them. 

Violence against children is a global scourge that cuts across borders, class, culture, ethnicity, race, gender and socioeconomic status. In some parts of the world it is at endemic levels, affecting almost every facet of society. While sexual violence is especially repugnant, violence can take many forms, and is often used in combination. It includes verbal abuse, corporal punishment, online harassment and physical violence, which can all have a debilitating impact on a child’s sense of self-worth. 

It is time for this to change. 

ChildFund Alliance and its member Educo have just released Small Voices Big Dreams 2019, a report detailing results of a survey of nearly 5,500 children across 15 countries, making it one of the largest global surveys of its kind. 

The findings are a stark reminder not only that children have a lot to say about violence, but they understand why it happens and they want to play a far greater role in trying to stop it. 

Children reported that there was almost always a power imbalance between victim and aggressor when it came to violence, while more than half said violence occurred because children could not defend themselves. 

Ninety percent said that in order to stop violence against children, adults needed to listen to them more, and recognize children’s rights. 

Rimpal, 12, from India, astutely told researchers: “Society should give a voice to children, so that they feel safe and protected.” 

These wise words couldn’t ring truer. 

While we continue to see children only as victims, we are doing them a disservice and allowing the violence to continue. Children like Priya and Rimpal have so much to contribute, and they need to be heard. 

Children need a seat at the table.