girl laughingViolence against children includes all forms of physical, sexual and emotional violence, neglect, negligent treatment and exploitation. Child maltreatment refers more specifically to violence perpetrated by adults in positions of responsibility, trust or power. Studies document high levels of physical violence in childhood, as did a nationally representative study from El Salvador in which 42% of women and 62% of men reported physical violence before age 15. Data on child sexual abuse is more limited, but in population-based surveys, women report experiencing childhood sexual abuse at levels that range from 4.7% in Guatemala to 7.8% in Honduras.

Violence against children poses serious consequences to children's health and well-being. Studies have linked violence a to a host of physical and mental health problems,including impaired social, emotional and cognitive development.

The role of the health sector

The health sector can play a vital role in responding to and preventing violence against children. This role includes helping to identify abuse early, providing victims with treatment, and referring children to appropriate and informed care. The health sector must also work to prevent violence from ever taking place.  And as the public health approach to prevention clearly stipulates, the first step in preventing violence is to understand it and the health sector has a key role in helping us to measure and understand violence against children.

Evidence summaries