Child abuse and violence is costing countries in East Asia and the Pacific around US $209 billion/year, equivalent to 2 percent of the region’s GDP, according to newly published research commissioned by UNICEF. This is the first ever costing of child maltreatment in the region and was conducted by a team of global experts using a proven methodology previously employed in Australia and the US.
“We all know that violence against children must stop because it is morally wrong. This research shows that inaction about violence results in serious economic costs to countries and communities,” said UNICEF Regional Director Daniel Toole. “Governments need to take urgent action to address violence against children, both for the sake of the children themselves and for the wellbeing of future generations.”
The social and economic impact of child maltreatment include an added burden on already stretched health care systems, disability and death, and increased levels of violence and criminality. It is difficult for children who experience violence and abuse to grow up to be productive members of society, and their countries also risk losing the potential benefits to their communities these children might otherwise provide.
The research follows previous studies on the prevalence of child maltreatment. It looks at the different types of maltreatment, and the cost to economies of each. According to the study, the costs associated with emotional abuse are US $65.9 billion, those associated with physical abuse are $39.6 billion, sexual abuse costs about $39.9 billion, neglect costs $32.4 billion, witnessing domestic violence costs $31 billion and death from maltreatment costs an estimated $500 million.
The study notes that:
• In lower middle income countries, 35 percent of males have experienced physical abuse and 22 percent of females have experienced sexual abuse
• In high income countries, 42 percent of females have experienced emotional abuse and 32 percent of males have witnessed domestic violence
• 25 percent of mental disorders among males in low income countries are attributable to physical abuse during childhood
• 31 percent of mental disorders among females in lower middle income countries are attributable to sexual abuse during childhood
• The percentage of GDP lost due to child maltreatment is highest in upper middle income countries, at 3.45%, with the largest part (1.26%) due to emotional abuse.
Additional research in Cambodia, supported by UNICEF, found that over 50 percent of children had experienced at least one form of violence before the age of 18. Roughly a quarter of Cambodian children were emotionally abused and about five per cent experienced some form of sexual abuse.
UNICEF is working with governments in the region to take action based on these findings. In Cambodia, we have supported a survey which provides, for the first time, national estimates of the scale of violence against children. This study will inform action by the Cambodian government to prevent and respond to violence against children.
“We’re supporting the Cambodian Government to prevent violence against children from happening in the first place, and to improve services for those boys and girls who experience violence,” said UNICEF Cambodia Representative Rana Flowers. “This research allows us to demonstrate the scale of the problem in Cambodia and helps us make a powerful case for change.”
All governments in the region have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which commits them to protect children from violence, abuse and maltreatment. More needs to be done to meet these commitments, including greater investment in social services.
“All children have the right to live free from violence, which harms their physical and mental growth, and inhibits the growth of their society and economies,” Daniel Toole said. “Violence against children often takes place behind closed doors but it is preventable when people come together and say loudly and clearly that this is not acceptable.”