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The consequences of child maltreatment in Asia-Pacific

Child Safe Tourism

September 2, 2013

UNICEF: A statistical snapshot on child abuse in East Asia and the Pacific

Guest post – Amalee McCoy, Regional Child Protection Specialist for UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific.

The abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation of children is alarmingly widespread, and the impact of these experiences on children are immediate, long lasting, and often devastating. UNICEF’s ground-breaking research report released in late 2012, Child Maltreatment: Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences in the East Asia and Pacific Region, confirmed these trends. The report presented the findings of an innovative systematic review of 364 studies published between 2000-2010 on the prevalence, incidence and consequences of child maltreatment in the region.

The systematic review uncovered many quantitative studies on the prevalence and incidence of child physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Several alarming statistics were highlighted, including:

  • The prevalence of severe physical abuse ranges from 9% to nearly 1 in 4 children in the region.
  • Between 14% to 30% of both boys and girls have reported experiencing forced sex in their lifetimes.
  • Adolescents and adults who have experienced sexual and/or physical abuse as children are 4 times more likely to have thought of or attempted suicide than those without a history of abuse.

Unfortunately, no population based probability data was identified through the review on the prevalence and incidence of commercial child sexual exploitation. However, quite a few small-scale studies were unearthed which shed some light on the numbers, as well as conditions of children in prostitution. For example:

  • In Vietnam: A 2010 study by UNICEF and the Ministry of Invalids and Social Affairs found that approximately 15% of all female sex workers were under 18 years of age.
  • In Thailand: A 2005 study by ILO IPEC found that 19.8% of children and young women in prostitution reported that their first sexual experience was rape.
  • In Cambodia: A 2009 study by ECPAT Cambodia found that, according to data collected from NGOs across the country, 37% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation were children.

Looking at consequences of child maltreatment, the systematic review found that children and young people who experienced sexual abuse and exploitation tend to have poor mental and physical health outcomes. Forced unsafe sexual practices, greater likelihood of physical injury due to engaging in sexual relations at too young an age, and lack of access to medical treatment all affect the long-term health and development of these children. Studies also revealed numerous mental health problems, such as high rates of depression, shame and suicidal thoughts and attempts. These children often had difficulties regularly attending school and were more likely to engage in high-risk behaviours such as drug use, and to be involved in perpetrating violence when older.

These types of findings emphasise the urgent need for governments, civil society organizations, development agencies and academia to advocate for, invest in, and collaborate across sectors for the strengthening of child protection systems in the East Asia and Pacific Region. Efforts across the region must shift toward evidence based policies and programmes for preventing child maltreatment, such as child sexual exploitation, rather than merely attempt to respond to individual cases of abuse. Given that most cases of child abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation are never reported, and that the consequences are profoundly negative, it is imperative that we collaborate more effectively in order to prevent child maltreatment before it even occurs.

Read the full systematic review in the UNICEF Child Maltreatment report.