20 February 2019
One in 10 girls aged 15 to 19 said they had experienced force sexual act at some point in their lives. Photo: The Guardian
One in 10 girls aged 15 to 19 said they had experienced force sexual act at some point in their lives. Photo: The Guardian

One in 10 girls sexually abused, UNICEF says

Some 120 million girls under the age of 20, or more than 1 in 10 worldwide, have been sexually abused, while six in 10 children aged 2 to 14 are regularly beaten by parents and caregivers, according to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.

The report, released on Thursday and based on data from 190 countries, paints a picture of endemic physical and emotional violence inflicted daily on children, mostly at home and in peacetime rather than on the streets or in war, the New York Times said.

“Most violence against children occurs at the hands of the people charged with their care or with whom they interact daily — caregivers, peers and intimate partners,” the report said.

About one billion children worldwide are subjected to corporal punishment as a form of discipline by their caregivers, including parents, though the report said “the most severe forms of corporal punishment — hitting a child on the head, ears or face or hitting a child hard and repeatedly — are less common over all”.

Among girls aged 15 to 19, almost one-fourth said they had been the victims of “some form of physical violence since age 15”, the newspaper quoted the UNICEF report as saying. 

The children suffered most at the hands of the men to whom they were closest, it said. In countries as varied as India and Zambia, for instance, more than 70 percent of the girls said the perpetrators were their husbands or partners.

However, half of the girls said they believe a husband is sometimes justified in hitting his wife.

Likewise, girls said they were subjected to sexual violence at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends. One in 10 said they had experienced “forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives”.

Boys were found to have experienced sexual violence, too, but to a lesser extent. In the United States, 35 percent of girls aged 14 to 17, and 20 percent of boys in the same age group, had experienced such violence.

Over all, war accounts for a small share of violence against children, according to the report. But during conflicts and other humanitarian crises, domestic violence against adult women and children rises measurably, the newspaper quoted the authors of the study as saying.

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