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Study Reveals Scale of Violence Against Africa's Children

An international study on violence against children, commissioned by the U.N., reveals the severity of violence children suffer in West and Central Africa. The report also highlights steps to improve the situation.

Throughout central and West Africa, it may be a common sight to see children begging at street corners, but the signs of poverty and violence that children endure are not always evident.

In a region where almost half of the population is not registered at birth, children are among the most vulnerable and invisible, according to the U.N. children's body, UNICEF.

Against this backdrop, the U.N. commissioned four years ago an international study to measure the scale of violence against children. The study combines human rights, public health and child protection perspectives, and focuses on five settings where violence occurs: the home and family, schools and educational settings, institutions - including care and justice - the workplace, and the community.

El Kane Mooh, the regional advisor for the non-governmental group Save the Children West Africa, describes the most common types of violence children face in the region, starting with violence in the workplace.

"In West Africa, many children are working," said El Kane Mooh. "[There is also] sexual violence, rape, but also incest, and traditional practices, mainly female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, and debt [labor] bondage."

Michel Gregoire, with the International Labor Organization, describes the less visible forms of violence children suffer, such as those who are employed as domestic workers.

These less visible forms of violence, he says, are more dangerous because these children are subject to all types of hidden abuses. Gregoire says that there are several million of these less visible victims throughout Africa, who deserve the attention of governments, civil society, and development organizations.

He and other aid workers and advocates for children hailed the study as much needed in the campaign to increase awareness about the often endemic violence children suffer throughout the world.

How can we fight against something if we don't know what the enemy is, asks Gregoire. Only then, he concludes, can we possibly find ways to defend, protect and fight against this violence.

The report calls for a wide range of actions to be taken. One specific recommendation is for governments to set up an independent body that advocates for the rights of children.

Mamadou Ndiaye Diom, 16, a member of a youth club in Dakar, has his own recommendation to end violence against children.

My idea would be, he says, to speak with you and try to break the silence surrounding violence, try to advise youth to speak up and to know what their rights are.