A sobering new report details, for the first time, the shocking levels of physical, emotional and sexual violence, as well as neglect faced by children living in the Pacific and Timor-Leste.
Released at the United Nations High-level Political Forum in New York, the ‘Unseen and Unsafe: Underinvestment in Ending Violence Against Children in the Pacific and Timor-Leste’ report shows that over 70 percent or 4 million children across eight countries experience violent discipline at home, including a staggering 2.8 million (75 percent of the child population) in Papua New Guinea.
The report finds there have also been inadequate levels of funding and policy measures to address the epidemic. Just $1.1 million or 0.1 percent of all Australian foreign aid to the Pacific and Timor-Leste in 2017 was directed to programs specifically addressing violence against children. Only $3.4 million was spent in total by all foreign donors on this critical issue.
Children who face violence and abuse often suffer from serious physical injuries, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, mental trauma, and even death.
Physically, children are also more susceptible to injury than adults as their bodies are still developing. Violence can lead to stunted brain development which affects their concentration, language development and ability to read and write.
The research, conducted by World Vision, Save the Children, Plan International and ChildFund, also demonstrates:
- 1 in 4 adolescent girls experienced physical violence, and 1 in 10 sexual violence;
- In Papua New Guinea, more than half of all sexual violence cases referred to medical clinics in Port Moresby and Tari were against children; and
- In Papua New Guinea, 27 per cent of parents or carers reported beating their children “over and over as hard as they could”.
World Vision Australia CEO Claire Rogers, called on the Australian Government to prioritise the protection of children through its aid program.
“Every child deserves to feel safe at home, at school and in the community. But sadly, millions of children in our region experience violence.
“Given that the impact of abuse can last well into adulthood, more investment would drastically improve these children’s life trajectories”.
Save the Children Acting Head of Policy and author of ‘Unseen and Unsafe’,Kavitha Suthanthiraraj, said this report reveals just how big the child protection crisis is in the Pacific and Timor-Leste and the devastating lifelong impact this has on children.
“While the drivers of violence in the region are complex and inter-generational, targeted programs are making a difference. Interventions targeted at increasing children’s resilience and ability to seek support when they are unsafe; and positive parenting training with parents to support them to better understand the impact of their actions, are reducing violence and abuse against children.
“From our research it’s clear that more targeted aid expenditure on ending violence against children is needed to really address this epidemic. As the largest aid donor to the Pacific, Australia must lead by example and continue working closely with Pacific governments on this.”
ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence said home is an environment that should be safe and protected, and family violence has a profound impact on children. However, there have been some positive developments.
“At community levels we are seeing an increase in the number of grassroots organisations which offer interventions that prevent and respond to family and sexual violence. These include initiatives to change cultural norms in rural communities, school education programs which focus on respectful relationships, and the establishment of safe houses for women and children.
“Australia has a vital role to play in supporting those working for change in the Pacific.”
Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena described the overwhelming figures in the Unseen and Unsafe report as ‘heart-wrenching’.
“Anyone confronted by these figures would agree that this is just horrific. All children deserve to feel safe, to be healthy and loved, no matter where they live. For too long, confronting this silent epidemic of violence against children has been ignored in foreign policy. We cannot let these children down.
“It’s time to put children at the heart of all of Australia’s development programs, with policies and resources that prioritise child protection and child rights.”