NADI, FIJI – As the Pacific conference on Ending Violence Against Children came to a close yesterday, UNICEF East Asia Pacific Regional Director, Mr. Daniel Toole reminded delegates that “Raising awareness about violence is not about blame, it is about healing the whole family, encouraging mutual respect between children and adults, building stronger families and ultimately stronger communities.”
“When His Excellency the President of the Republic of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau opened this conference, he challenged us when he stated that children of the Pacific cannot wait to be free from violence, we owe it to children to ensure they grow up free from violence. He asked if not us, then when and who?”
“The Pacific, like many parts of the world, unfortunately experiences high rates of violence. But as the Special Representative of the Secretary General said, all violence is harmful and all violence is preventable.”
Mr Toole encouraged delegates to “Keep children’s safety and protection high on the political agenda, and to translate this commitment at policy level into strengthened services for children who are victims of violence, with a particular focus on prevention and response to child sexual abuse, extreme physical abuse, and greater awareness about the harmful impact of emotional abuse.”
“An opportunity exists for each country of the Pacific to influence the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals on peaceful and inclusive societies and to adopt national targets on ending violence against children. The Sustainable Development Goals will include a target to address violence against children, and countries are encouraged to include targets on ending violence in your national development plans,” he said.
Senior government officials, child protection experts and donors from 15 Pacific Island countries converged in Fiji and reviewed and shared good practices, drafted and agreed to act upon country plans to end violence against children when they return to their countries.
Presentations from delegates illustrated some actions taken to prevent and address violence. For example the work undertaken by churches to counsel couples and parents on positive relationships free from violence, parenting programmes providing vulnerable families with stress relief and guidance on positive discipline and the promotion of positive cultural and traditional values that foster nurturing families and communities.
There was also recognition of the work undertaken to strengthen laws and policies, with many countries having laws on family safety, including protection of children from domestic violence. Family courts are being established in some countries of the Pacific, and networks for referral and response were being strengthened across health, education, social welfare sectors.
Mr Toole said “In addition to setting national targets in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, a very practical step countries can take to address violence against children is to ratify the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention. The benefits of governments ratifying these instruments on child rights is a commitment we can make to the children of today and the children of tomorrow.”
Over the course of the three days the conference reminded participants of the need to address all forms of violence against children as it has a devastating impact on children. It leaves deep and long-lasting physical, emotional and psychological scars, it affects a child’s educational attainment, learning outcomes and even brain development. At the societal level it impacts social wellbeing, community unity and places pressure on social services and economic growth.
On the first day of the conference, the launch of the report titled “Harmful Connections” confirmed a strong link between violence against children and violence against women. Girls who group up in violent households are more likely to grow up to become a victim of sexual and domestic violence as an adult, and boys have a greater chance of growing up to perpetrate violence in their relationships. It provided evidence for policies, legislation and services that address all forms of family violence.
In addition to the very harmful results of violence at the individual and community level, delegates learned that violence has a direct impact on the economic and social development of a country. The cost of violence against children in the East Asia and Pacific region is estimated to be 2 percent of GDP. In countries with developing economies, these are costs that we simply cannot afford.
“There are some key actions we can take to promote a violence free Pacific for children. Ending violence against children requires a committed partnership between government, civil society, faith-based organisations, communities and ultimately families. No one partner or government ministry can do it alone, we need to work together,” said Mr Toole.
The conference offered an opportunity for strengthening partnerships within and between countries of the Pacific and the need to regularly hold a Pacific exchange on our work in child protection and ending violence against children.
“Finally after three days of discussions and deliberations, we can answer His Excellency the President of Fiji’s question positively – it is us, gathered here today that can make a difference to ending violence against children,” he said.