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No Excuse for Violence Against Children

Since world leaders agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, significant progress has been made toward ending childhood deaths from malaria, tuberculosis, and other preventable diseases. Now it's time to get serious about another SDG: ending violence against children.

GENEVA – At the World Health Assembly in May, we made the case for why governments and United Nations agencies need to spend more on measures to prevent noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), injury, and violence against children. One of us – Zoleka Mandela – spoke of losing her 13-year-old daughter to a drunk driver, and of suffering sexual violence as a child at the hands of adults who should have been taking care of her. “It was an abuse of power, and it was a violation of trust,” she told the assembly. “It left me emotionally and mentally scarred. It led me to self-harm and to try to take my own life several times. It led to alcohol and drug dependency.”

We hope this personal account of trauma will serve as a reminder to leaders around the world that violence, mental and sexual trauma, and substance abuse are interrelated issues that can have a deep and lasting impact on the lives of children. The evidence for this is overwhelming. In this year alone, an estimated one billion children will experience physical, sexual, or psychological violence at home, in school, online, and in their communities. One in four will suffer physical abuse; if they are girls, nearly one in five will suffer sexual abuse in their lifetimes.

Violence against children is persistent and pervasive, regardless of gender and geography. If we open our eyes, we will see a constant stream of stories about its victims. They come from all walks of life, from a young girl in India who reports that her family sold her to sex traffickers to the French actor Thierry Beccaro, who has revealed that he was brutally beaten by his father throughout his childhood.

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