In East Asia and the Pacific, the number of children who face maltreatment is shockingly high. Roughly 10% to 30% of the 580 million children –one quarter of the world’s children — in the East Asia and Pacific regions are victims of forced sex and other physical abuse according to a report by UNICEF. The high prevalence of physical abuse — including sexual abuse — is causing long-term damage to many children in East Asia and the Pacific, warns a new report issued earlier this month by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The report, “Child Maltreatment: Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences in East Asia and Pacific,” is the first review of existing studies compiled by experts over a 10 year period, January 2000 and November 2010.
“Child maltreatment has harmful long-term consequences, not only for the children suffering the abuse, but also for the families and societies in which they live,” UNICEF’s Regional Child Protection Specialist, Amalee McCoy, said in a news release. “Understanding the prevalence of child maltreatment is a first step towards identifying the right measures to make every child in the region safer” (UN News Center).
In the report, all facets of abuse — emotional, physical, sexual, child labor, etc. — were studied to give an overview of all aspects and effects of maltreatment in the region. While the levels of abuse varied by country, the overall results remain shocking. The reports research revealed such shocking statistics as one in three North Korean children and nearly four out of five Chinese children report experiencing emotional abuse. Child labor was also a notably common form of abuse, ranging from 6.5 percent in Vietnam to 56 percent in a fishing area in Cambodia.
The report estimates of the frequency of physical abuse of children vary from country to country and from study to study, but found that the best case scenario suggests 1 in 10 children experience physical abuse whereas the worst case scenario illustrates that some 30.3 per cent of children suffering abuse. The decade of research found that between 14 percent and 30 percent of both boys and girls reported being forced into sexual acts or intercourse. The prevalence of girls forced into sexual acts being higher for girls in most all cases. For example, in Cambodia, 51.2 percent of girls — compared with 1.9 percent of boys — reported having been forced to have sexual intercourse.
The effects of the physical and sexual abuse on children, while cumulative, have led to many long-term effects such as depression, high-risk behavior and mental health issues. Children who are victims of abuse, neglect, exploitation — whether verbal, physical or sexual — or experience violence are more likely to be depressed and experience other types of mental health problems, to think about or attempt suicide, to have more physical problems – that can be both medically explained and unexplained – and to engage in more high-risk behaviors than their non-abused counterparts.
The report’s findings were reviewed the following week by child protection experts from various governments, the U.N. and civil society members at a meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. However, follow-up reports have not yet been issued. The report, while a milestone in seeking to address the all-encompassing issues of maltreatment and abuse of children in the region, is only one of many necessary steps we must take to end the abuse of children. Despite the best efforts of the many who work daily to address this problem, we continue to fall far short in applying our knowledge. Hopefully this report will lead to increased measures of protection and prevention in the region.