Violence against children occurs in various settings, such as schools, at home and residential institutions. It assumes forms including corporal punishment, sexual exploitation and trafficking, whilst also manifesting itself in less identifiable ways, such as bullying or neglect. Safeguarding children from this relies upon effective, integrated and robust child protection systems. However, as FRA’s mapping of national child protection strategies found, only 13 Member States had comprehensive national child protection policies or strategies.
When national laws and policies are so fragmented, they fail to protect children effectively, especially those at higher risk of abuse and exploitation. Vulnerable groups include victims of trafficking, children with disabilities, unaccompanied children, children living in institutions, children living in deprived conditions, and children in contact with the law. FRA has produced research directly addressing the challenges faced by some of these groups:
- Children deprived of guardianship are particularly susceptible to being trafficked, which is made clear in a recent FRA report. The current migrant situation and rise in unaccompanied minors has exacerbated this.
- Children with disabilities face multiple layers of risk, including increased levels of violence, as the Agency’s report on Violence against children with disabilities underlines.
- As outlined in FRA’s report on child-friendly justice, children involved in judicial procedures should be protected from harm and potential re-traumatisation at all points during proceedings.
- Girls are particularly vulnerable. FRA’s Violence against Women survey revealed that 27% of women in the EU have experienced some form of physical abuse at the hands of an adult before turning 15.
Despite Member State efforts, violence against children remains largely undetected and under-reported. Ten principles for child protection, developed by the European Commission, provide a good basis to work from. Effective child protection requires interagency coordination, an integrated approach and cooperation between various actors.
Efforts should be intensified to improve monitoring and reporting mechanisms and to facilitate access to child-sensitive complaint and reporting procedures for children in and outside of state care.
Prevention is key. Priority should be given to developing integrated child protection policies and implementing measures that avert violence. These include:
- Developing family support services to enhance parental capacity to protect children;
- Promoting family-based care and, where possible, moving children out of institutionalised care;
- Raising awareness with both the general public and children themselves on child rights;
- Providing specialised training and guidelines to professionals coming into contact with children;
- Ensuring the participation of children in all decisions that affect their lives.
All in all, a strong message needs to be delivered that violence against children must stop. It harms them. It damages society. It jeopardises their future. It is the obligation of everybody to ensure this message becomes a reality.