Violence and Injury Prevention

World Health Organization: Follow up to the UN Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Children

WHO has a twofold stake in the prevention of violence against children. First, violence against children is an important public health issue in itself, directly affecting millions of individuals every year. For instance, WHO estimates cited in the UN Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Children state that nearly 53 000 children are murdered each year, and that the prevalence of forced sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual violence involving touch, among boys and girls under 18, is 73 million (or 7%) and 150 million (or 14%), respectively.

Second, violence against children is a major risk factor for psychiatric disorders and suicide, and has lifelong sequelae including depression, anxiety disorders, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, aggression and violence towards others, risky sexual behaviours and post traumatic stress disorders. Preventing violence against children therefore contributes to preventing a much broader range of noncommunicable diseases.

Follow up to the UN Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Children therefore fits naturally with WHO's work on violence prevention in particular and noncommunicable disease prevention more generally. The 2002 World report on violence and health (WRVH), and associated resolutions in the World Health Assembly and a number of regional committees, have helped to galvanize country interest in addressing violence as a public health priority using a multi-sectoral approach.

Over fifty countries have held national launches of the WRVH, fifteen countries have published or are currently preparing national reports on violence and health, and over 100 countries have formally appointed Ministry of Health violence prevention focal persons. During the past 18 months, nearly 40 countries have initiated new violence prevention activities in collaboration with WHO - including data collection, research on the costs of violence, prevention programme evaluation, the establishment of national prevention institutes or task forces, and the improvement of victim services.

As part of the Global Campaign for Violence Prevention - the broad framework for implementing the recommendations of the World report on violence and health - WHO will continue to support countries to collect data and information related to violence against children, develop national violence prevention policies, build the capacity of health professionals to address violence, and create systems for the provision of appropriate medico-legal services and emergency trauma care.

Through the WHO-led Violence Prevention Alliance and a network of Ministry of Health focal points for violence prevention, WHO will continue to foster a strong network of governments, international agencies and private foundations committed to supporting a scientific approach to preventing violence.

More specifically, WHO has worked with the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect to develop the document Preventing child maltreatment: a guide for taking action and generating evidence.

This guide is intended to assist countries to design and deliver programmes for the prevention of child maltreatment by parents and caregivers, and provides technical advice for professionals working in governments, research institutes and NGOs on how to measure the extent of child maltreatment and its consequences, and how to design, implement and evaluate prevention programmes and services so that they can both be effective and yield evidence of effectiveness.

It is aimed at helping to expand the number of epidemiological studies into the magnitude and consequences of child maltreatment, and to increase investment in programmes to prevent the maltreatment of children. WHO will support countries to use this practical tool to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Secretary General's Study on Violence Against Children.

In addition to the guide for preventing child maltreatment, WHO has several resources that can be utilized in Study follow-up:

  • Guidelines for medico-legal care for victims of sexual violence, a clinical guideline that includes a chapter on managing child sexual abuse;
  • TEACH-VIP, a course designed to train government personnel, violence and injury prevention practitioners, injury response service providers and students in public health and nursing science on how to prevent violence and injuries. The course includes special modules on child maltreatment and youth violence.
  • Developing national policies to prevent violence and injuries, a guideline to assist policy-makers and planners with formulating national policies.
  • Guidelines for essential trauma care and Prehospital care systems, which together provide guidance for ensuring optimal care of injured patients--an essential component of reducing the number of violent deaths of adolescents in particular.

Large-scale reductions in violence against children will require unwavering commitment and leadership at the international level. One of the lessons learned from WHO's experience with the World report on violence and health and the World report on road traffic injuries is that implementation requires strong partnerships and interagency collaboration. WHO is committed to supporting a high-level advocate in the UN system and to working together with fellow UN agencies, NGOs and other partners to address violence against children.