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UN: Millions of Children Victims of Abuse, Exploitation

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The United Nations Children's Fund reports millions of children are subject to violence, exploitation and abuse. UNICEF has published its 8th Progress For Children report and the first which deals with protection issues. The report monitors and analyzes the progress nations are making in protecting children from all sorts of harm.

There are 2.2 billion children under age 18 around the world and, according to UNICEF, countless millions are suffering from a wide-range of abuse.

In its report, the UN Children's Fund finds progress is being made in certain areas. But, this pales in comparison with the harsh treatment and lack of protection to which many children are subjected.

UNICEF estimates more than 70 million girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone Female Genital Mutilation and cutting in 28 countries in Africa, plus Yemen. It says the figure is likely to be higher when girls and women of all ages are counted throughout the world.

Although this mutilating practice persists in many countries, UNICEF finds there has been a slow decline in carrying out these kinds of procedures during the past 10 to 20 years.

Birth Registration is another area where some success is being made. UNICEF chief of child protection, Susan Bissel, speaking by telephone from New York, says birth registration is the first and most important step toward protecting the child.

"Children who are not registered are not likely to get enrolled in schools or to have access to special programs for them. For instance, they become victims of child trafficking," said Bissel. "In a sense they are invisible in the eyes of the State and everyone else."

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Child marriage is another indicator of how well children are faring. The report says more than one-third of young women 20 to 24 years old in developing countries report they were married before age 18, half of them live in South Asia.

Bissel calls this practice a violation of the rights of children.

"The younger the girl is when she is married and possibly then becomes pregnant, the greater the health risks for her and her baby," said Bissel. "We know that girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. We have the recent case of the girl in Yemen, who, I believe was 12 years old and died giving birth to her child."

The report touches upon a number of other areas where children are unprotected. UNICEF estimates, globally, 150 million children 5 to 14 years old are engaged in child labor. It says this is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than one third of children work.

It says no reliable numbers exist for children and adolescents who are subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation because of the clandestine nature of the work. But, it says millions of girls and boys around the world are involved.

Most of the information in the report looks at the condition of children in developing countries. But, the report notes children in industrialized countries also are abused and exploited.

A recent review of studies finds at least four percent of children in wealthier countries are physically abused each year, and one in 10 is neglected or psychologically abused. In at least 80 percent of the cases, the studies note parents or guardians are to blame.