Objective 3: Protecting Children from Violence, Exploitation, Abuse, and Neglect

Evidence shows that violence against and exploitation of children and women – which often occur together and share common risk factors1,2 – can be prevented.3 Children who witness violence are significantly more at risk for health problems, anxiety disorders, poor school performance, and violent behavior. Women who experience violence from their partners are less likely to earn a living and less able to care for their children.4 In the same way that public health efforts have prevented and reduced pregnancy-related complications, infant mortality, infectious diseases, and illnesses, the factors that contribute to violent and abusive responses – attitudes and behavior or social, economic, political, and cultural conditions – can be changed.5

Children’s Exposure to Violence, Exploitation, and Abuse

  • Violence against children is pervasive, particularly in settings where violence against children is pervasive; children should be safe and protected, including homes and schools.
  • Critically large numbers of children – 150 million girls and 73 million boys – have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence.
  • It is estimated that females are 58 percent of trafficking victims and 98 percent of sexual exploitation victims.
  • Approximately 115 million children are engaged in hazardous work,60 and 5.5 million children are in forced labor. Children in rural areas – girls in particular – begin agricultural labor as young as 5 to 7 years old.
  • More than 13 million children are internally displaced as a result of conflict or persecution.
  • Armed conflict is robbing 28 million children of an education by exposing them to widespread sexual violence, targeted at tacks on schools, and other abuses.
  • An estimated 300,000 children are associated with armed forces or groups.
  • Between 133 million and 275 million children worldwide are estimated to witness domestic violence annually.
  • Approximately one-third of all children experience severe discipline at home.
  • Roughly one-third of women 20 to 24 years of age in the developing world were married as children.
  • The prevalence of female genital mutilation varies significantly from country to country, from nearly 98 percent in Somalia to less than 1 percent in Uganda.
  • In South Africa, 32 percent of disclosed rape cases experienced by children under 15 years of age found school teachers to be responsible.


  1. Patel, D. (2011). Preventing violence against women and children. Institute of Medicine. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.; Bernard van Leer Foundation. (2011). Hidden violence: Protecting young children at home.
  2. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego. http://www.cdc.gov/ace/. See also Cummings, J.G. et al. (1999). Behavior problems in children exposed to wife abuse: Gender differences. Journal of Family Violence, 14(2). pp. 133-156.
  3. WHO. (2010). Violence prevention: The evidence. Series of briefings on violence prevention.
  4. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. (2002). Children exposed to intimate partner violence.
  5. WHO. (2010). Violence prevention: The evidence. Series of briefings on violence prevention.

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