Part 2 in a series of blogs on Violence in Childhood by Dr. Susan Bissell and Jule Voss


In 2015, the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as an ambitious plan to improve standards of living, eliminate poverty, and protect the planet. At the core of the 2030 Agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals which specify targets and indicators designed to track progress in several areas, including violence against children. For example, Target 16.2 is to “End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children” and includes three indicators which measure violence —Indicator 16.2.1: Proportion of children aged 1–17 years who experienced any physical punishment and/or psychological aggression by caregivers in the past month, 16.2.2: Number of victims of human trafficking per 100,000 population, by sex, age, and form of exploitation, and Indicator 16.2.3: Proportion of young women and men aged 18–29 years who experienced sexual violence by age 18.[1]

However, in order to assess progress towards these targets, policymakers need accurate data measuring the prevalence of violence against children worldwide.

While international household survey programmes such as UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and USAID’s Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) have introduced modules focused on exposure to violence, there are no internationally-recognized best practices for measuring the prevalence of violence against children.[2] These and other subject-specific survey instruments like the Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) led by the CDC as part of the Together for Girls partnership are important, but they are almost exclusively carried out in the developing world and as such do not provide sufficient data to understand the scope of the global problem.

Measuring the prevalence of violence against children also presents the more fundamental challenge of gathering accurate responses. Official statistics often grossly underestimate the rates of violence against children; for example, one study found that official statistics report an average of 3 cases of physical abuse or violence against children ages 0 to 18 per 1000 children whereas the average number of self-reported cases globally is 226 per 1000.[3]

Despite these challenges, researchers estimate that at least 1 billion children globally have experienced violence.[4] This statistic, based on a systematic review of more than 1,300 peer-reviewed papers and reports, represents a grave violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and an impediment to the achievement of the SDGs.

While there remains a critical need for accurate, disaggregated data on violence against children in all countries of the world, the data we do have on the issue represents a clear call to action. In 2003, the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro to lead an independent study on violence against children. The resulting report, which was completed in 2006, offered the first comprehensive look into the prevalence, causes, and consequences of violence against children and—most importantly—what can be done to prevent it.[5]

Since then, awareness of the issue of violence against children in the international community has increased significantly, supported by a new body of research commissioned by the Know Violence in Childhood Global Learning Initiative.[6] Focusing on violence in the home, school, and community, these papers helped expand the evidence base and build upon prior research by governments and UN agencies, such as the 2014 “Hidden in Plain Sight” report by UNICEF and the WHO global status reports on violence against children.7

Collectively, this body of research has shown that violence against children is a pervasive threat to childhood development that affects children of all ages, genders, ethnicities, countries of origin, abilities, and socio-economic statuses. We know that:

  • 32 percent of students ages 13 to 15 have been physically attacked at least once.8
  • 6 in 10 children worldwide (almost 1 billion) between the ages of 2 and 14 are subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers on a regular basis. [7]
  • 120 million girls under the age of 20 have experienced some form of forced sexual contact.[8]
  • Children ages 0 to 17 account for 8.4 percent of all homicide victims with the highest rates seen for boys in the Americas at 9.3 per 100,000 population.[9]

Understanding how many children experience violence and how, where, and why violence against children occurs is not optional – it is essential.  And greater investment is needed to better understand—and take action against—this violence. Only through greater data and evidence-based interventions aimed at preventing violence and exposure to violence can we design better and better-targeted projects that will make meaningful progress in eradicating violence against children and ensuring a healthy and productive future for the next generation.


[1] Global indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. (2017). A/RES/71/313 Annex. UN Statistics Division.

[2] Cappa, C. & Petrowski, N. (2020). Thirty years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: Progress and challenges in building statistical evidence on violence against children. Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 110, Part 1.

[3] Stoltenborgh, M., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J., IJzendoorn, M.H. & Alink, L.R.A. (2013). Cultural–geographical differences in the occurrence of child physical abuse? A meta-analysis of global prevalence, International Journal of Psychology, 48:2, 81-94, DOI: 10.1080/00207594.2012.697165.

[4] Hillis, S., Mercy, J., Amobi, A., & Kress, H. (2016). Global Prevalence of Past-year Violence Against Children: A Systematic Review and Minimum Estimates. Pediatrics, 137(3), e20154079.

[5] Report of the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children. (2006). UN GA A/61/299.

[6] A. K. Shiva Kumar, Vivien Stern, Ramya Subrahmanian, Lorraine Sherr, Patrick Burton, Nancy Guerra, Robert Muggah, Maureen Samms-Vaughan, Charlotte Watts & Soumya Kapoor Mehta. (2017). Ending violence in childhood: A global imperative, Psychology, Health & Medicine, 22: Sup. 1, 1-16,

7 Hidden in plain sight: A statistical analysis of violence against children. (2014). New York: United Nations Children’s Fund; Global status report on preventing violence against children. (2020). Geneva: World Health Organization. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

8 Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying. (2019).Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[7] Hidden in plain sight: A statistical analysis of violence against children. (2014). New York: United Nations Children’s Fund.

[8] ibid

[9] Global status report on preventing violence against children. (2020). Geneva: World Health Organization. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.