How can violence against children be prevented?

Online Q&A
Reviewed May 2013

Q: How can violence against children be prevented?

A: There are two distinct types of violence experienced by children (defined by the United Nations as anyone aged 0-18 years) - child maltreatment by parents and caregivers in children aged 0-14, and violence occurring in community settings among adolescents aged 15-18 years. These different types of violence can be prevented by addressing the underlying causes and risk factors specific to each type.

Child maltreatment by parents and caregivers can be prevented by:

  • reducing unintended pregnancies;
  • reducing harmful levels of alcohol and illicit drug use during pregnancy;
  • reducing harmful levels of alcohol and illicit drug use by new parents;
  • improving access to high quality pre- and post-natal services;
  • providing home visitation services by professional nurses and social workers to families where children are at high-risk of maltreatment;
  • providing training for parents on child development, non-violent discipline and problem-solving skills.

Violence involving children in community settings can be prevented through:

  • pre-school enrichment programmes to give young children an educational head start;
  • life skills training;
  • assisting high-risk adolescents to complete schooling;
  • reducing alcohol availability through the enactment and enforcement of liquor licensing laws, taxation and pricing;
  • restricting access to firearms.

Improving the efficiency of pre-hospital and emergency medical care will reduce the risk of death, the time for recovery and the level of long-term impairment due to violence.

All violence against children and especially child maltreatment occurring in the first decade of life is both a problem in itself and a major risk factor for other forms of violence and health problems through a person's life. For instance, a WHO study estimated that the lifetime impact of child sexual abuse accounts for approximately 6% of cases of depression, 6% of alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, 8% of suicide attempts, 10% of panic disorders and 27% of post traumatic stress disorders. Other studies have also linked child physical abuse, sexual abuse and other childhood adversities to excessive smoking, eating disorders, and high-risk sexual behaviour, which in turn are associated with some of the leading causes of death including cancers and cardiovascular disorders.

WHO supports countries to collect data and information related to violence against children, develop national violence prevention policies and programmes, and create systems for the provision of appropriate medico-legal and emergency trauma care.

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