Opinion: Creating a safer world for children

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) with actress Lucy Liu at the launch of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. Photo by: Eskinder Debebe / U.N.

One year ago marked a historical milestone in realizing the rights of children: the launch of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. Amid a flurry of activity and emotion, government ministers, the U.N. secretary-general, young people from Central America, foundation and civil society leaders, and actress Lucy Liu gathered in New York to take this important step.

End Violence convenes and engages key players — from policymakers to researchers to NGOs to parents — to advance and enact the most promising, evidence-based solutions for ending violence against children. At the launch, Baroness Joanna Shields of the United Kingdom also announced the associated Trust Fund for End Violence, which was created to support programs around the world aimed at ending violence against children. As part of the trust fund, the U.K. government has committed 40 million pounds over five years to help eradicate child sexual abuse material from the internet.  

One billion children experience violence each year. They are murdered, abused, raped, trafficked, bullied online or in school, or most commonly, neglected and hurt by their own families. The partnership set out determined not to just “address” this violence or reduce it, but to end it. We know this goal will take time, so for year one, we focused on laying the groundwork by building political will and engaging several countries to take real action.

A year in, we must take stock of whether the goals we set are realistic and partners have embraced the partnership and new Sustainable Development Goals, which make an explicit commitment to ending violence against children in all forms. Are partners moving from words to action?

With the launch of End Violence, I saw an opportunity to build on the efforts of tireless champions that have come before and to work together to advance the solutions that are creating a safer world for children. Throughout my career, I have seen the worst of what can be done to children — in poor regions and in wealthy ones, too. But I have also seen the best.

We asked governments to be “pathfinders,” taking up the gauntlet and taking action to craft road maps based on evidence, develop action plans using effective violence prevention strategies, create budgets for those programs, bring a range of partners and disciplines on board, and adopt an “all of government” approach to the safety and security of children.

One year in, 14 countries have committed to this effort, and an additional 10 countries are in the process of committing. This demonstrates a high level of political will from many world leaders and sets an example for others to follow.

Accelerating action to protect and support children in their daily lives is at the heart of what we do; we want to marry words with deeds. The fund associated with End Violence is focussed on “making stuff happen” by catalyzing actions that work and deliver concrete, measurable results for children. The current focus is on ending online sexual violence in childhood, and 14 grant recipients are already hard at work, just eight months after the fund went live. From Guatemala to the Philippines to Jordan, prevention activities are being strengthened, and services for victims fortified. We are already seeing progress: a Cyber Crime Investigation Unit in Guatemala supported by the fund has dismantled two networks that exploited children online.

Violence is preventable, and with political leadership and cross-sector collaboration at all levels, concrete and effective action is possible. In Mexico, Indonesia, Romania, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Sweden and other countries, governments, civil society and the private sector are making things happen. We can be hopeful for more peaceful childhoods by the year’s ahead.

We will continue to accelerate this action, and in our second year, we look forward to bringing partners more opportunities to collaborate on solutions and learn about the most effective, evidence-based approaches. Here’s how you can play a role.

If you work in the field, consider joining the partnership as a friend, member or partner to contribute to our community of knowledge sharing. We aim to build a deeper understanding of the most effective approaches across issue areas and regions. By continuing to attract the brightest minds and organizations working to end violence against children, our solutions will be stronger.

There is also an enormous gap in the financing required to end violence against children. While we cannot put an exact price on how much it will cost to protect the world’s children, we do have an estimate of the global economic costs resulting from the consequences of physical, psychological and sexual violence. These costs can be as high as $7 trillion, far greater than the investment required to prevent violence against children. We cannot afford the cost of inaction. As we look forward to year two, End Violence needs real champions — foundations, corporations, governments and citizens — to open doors for the fund and for our partners.

Building political will is an essential piece of our early strategy. Citizens of all countries can support this effort by writing to their representatives and government agencies to let them know that the prosperity of all nations depends on how we raise the next generation of children. Whether online, offline or on the move, we must preserve the integrity of childhood. Urge your government to get involved and invest in solutions.

One year in, I can confidently say that End Violence — as a means of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and a test case for its universality — is focused on the right things, at the right time. I am certain we are making progress in the right direction, drawing much-needed attention to the needs and rights of the world’s 1 billion children, the most affected and the most vulnerable first.

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About the author

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    Susan Bissell

    Susan Bissell is the director of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, a multistakeholder organization that seeks to prevent and eradicate violence against children around the world by bringing together heads of states, business leaders and civil society to have solutions oriented conversations and share best practices.