Director-General

Launch of the UN Secretary General's Study on Violence against Children, UN General Assembly Third Committee

Address by Anders Nordström, Acting-Director-General


11 October 2006

I would like to recognize the commitment of the Secretary General, which made this work possible. I congratulate him and the authors of this important report.

It is far sighted, collaborative, and action oriented.

We have heard a clear statement of the scale of violence against children. The statistics provide a horrifying picture of current abuses, of children unprotected, of societies that have normalized or ignored maltreatment of children.

Equally horrifying, is the fact that the effects of that maltreatment in young people are leading to a series of deadly long-term conditions.

Violence isn't just short-term hurt. It's long-term damage.

As adults, these children face risks to both their mental and physical health. The report has made that clear.

A few examples: They face increased risks of developing depression and suicidal behaviour. They are at greater risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and sexually transmitted infections than others. Without care, these children can grow into adults who continue the violence they experienced themselves. The pattern is of escalating harm - to each other, the communities they live in and to the societies that deal with the consequences and costs.

But we can stop this terrible cycle. Violence against children is not random. It is predictable. If it can be predicted it can be prevented. There is growing, strong scientific evidence for this.

Governments and communities around the world are beginning to act. Since our World Report on Violence and Health was launched four years ago, over 50 countries have launched violence prevention activities. A network of 100 violence prevention focal points from 67 ministries of health met in April this year to share knowledge and strengthen violence prevention policies. More than 60 countries have requested "TEACH VIP" - an electronic training programme to help build capacity for violence prevention.

We can see positive steps forward. This is important to continue.

We are committed to a collaborative scientific approach.

WHO is fostering a strong network of governments, international agencies and private foundations through the Violence Prevention Alliance.

Practical guidelines for effective action are essential. We have established the technical framework: On 16 October we are launching Preventing Child Maltreatment. This is a practical guide to taking action and generating evidence. It was prepared jointly with the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. The guide gives countries an immediate tool to implement what this Study has recommended.

WHO's approach is direct and practical.

We have planned a series of primary prevention activities, with demonstration projects, and substantive follow up to ensure that we are effective.

We also need to get better at detecting and dealing with violence against children when we see it.

We are working with governments and schools of public health to train health workers to: Respond to maltreatment; measure the extent and its consequences; and prevent child maltreatment by working with parents and caregivers.

All of these activities take place in the context of our broader work with many partners against violence: the Global Campaign for Violence Prevention.

We continue to explore the settings where violence is widespread, but still hidden.

The Professor made reference to a study launched earlier this year - the WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women. The interview process for this allowed many women to speak for the first time about the hurt and the fear they and their children experienced at home.

The study also identified the behavioural consequences: children from violent households are more likely to have excessive aggressive behaviour or timidity.

Unsurprisingly too, there is a strong relationship between economic inequality, poverty, and violence.

This reinforces further the urgency and significance of our work on the Millennium Development Goals - and also around the social determinants of health.

I have just come from our six regional governing body meetings.

In each the effects of social determinants on health were clearly recognized and discussed.

Last week, in Washington, I specifically raised the problem of violence among adolescents. In three other regions, strategies to confront the correlation between alcohol use and risk-taking or aggressive behaviour were discussed, and especially the impact on young people.

This study is unique in integrating the human rights approach with public health tools.

I met this week with the High Commissioner for Human Rights to discuss how we can work most closely together.

The recommendations made in this important report are wholly in line with the work WHO is doing on the prevention of violence globally.

As I have just indicated, they are also in line with many other important areas of our work, and with the work of our colleagues in other agencies.

Again, I thank Dr Pinheiro and all our partners in this effort, for their fine contributions to this report, and the clarity that it brings to the issue.

I also want to thank the Secretary General. His leadership in this area has given a vital impetus for all of us.

The collaboration that is building here also gives us a broader understanding of how we, as the UN, can find better ways of working.

A cornerstone of our work in this field is getting more, and better information, and translating that knowledge into better practice. It's not enough to have a report. It's not enough to adopt a resolution. We will carry this out together, working constructively with each other.

This report is a strong beginning. Now we must act to implement its recommendations. We strongly support the recommendation to have a high-level advocate within the UN system. An interagency working group may be needed to ensure coordinated follow up.

Thank you.

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