Violence against children is all too often unseen, unheard and underreported, said UNICEF today, announcing an initiative that urges ordinary citizens, lawmakers and governments to speak out more forcefully to fight violence against children.
“As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, I have long followed the issue of violence against children and the devastating impact it has on children, families and communities,” said Mr. Neeson when asked why he had decided to support the initiative. “It was a topic that became increasingly real to me as a child growing up in Ireland and during the filming of Taken, which focuses on one aspect of violence and abuse against children in the form of trafficking and sexual exploitation. In order to address the issue of violence, we need to speak out to highlight the problem and take action. I wanted to do that, and I urge everyone else to do the same.”
The initiative builds on growing popular outrage that erupted following horrific attacks against children, such as the October 2012 shooting of then 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, the fatal shooting of 26 pupils and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012 and gang rapes of girls in India and in South Africa in 2013.
“In every country, in every culture, there is violence against children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Whenever and wherever children are harmed, our outrage and anger must be seen and heard. We must make the invisible visible.”
This is the underlying message as UNICEF launches the End Violence Against Children initiative. The initiative urges people around the world to recognize violence against children, join global, national or local movements to end it and bring together new ideas to focus collective action on this goal. We have the power to fight violence now, says UNICEF, as the organization brings its global voice to add to the many efforts already underway.
The initiative was unveiled with a powerful video narrated by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Liam Neeson, who leads the viewer through a series of scenes depicting invisible violence.
“This is a 15-year-old girl being gang raped,” he says as the camera pans across an abandoned lot. “This teacher is beating a boy for talking back in class, while the rest of the class watches,” he says as new scenes unfold.
“Just because you can’t see violence against children doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” Neeson says. “Make the invisible visible. Help us make violence against children disappear. Join us. Speak out.”
The need to take urgent collective action is underlined even by the limited statistics available, which point to the scale and extent of violence. For example, some 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 years experienced sexual violence and exploitation, according to the WHO, and an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year, according to a 2005 ILO report.
Violence inflicts not only physical wounds but leaves mental scars on children. It affects their physical and mental health, compromises their ability to learn and socialize and undermines their development.
A special microsite and a social media campaign outlines ways for children, parents and communities to take action – such as getting involved, getting informed, organizing events and public discussion forums, supporting child victims of violence and working with global and local UNICEF partners.
Protecting children is at the heart of UNICEF’s mandate. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that every child everywhere has the right to be protected from all forms of violence.