In August, a series of high profile events took place across the Pacific and Timor-Leste to launch a startling new multi-agency report that uncovered shocking levels of violence against children in the region. The report, Unseen and Unsafe, was a collaboration between Plan International, ChildFund, World Vision and Save the Children.
It found between 70 to 87 per cent of children across eight countries in the Pacific experienced violence in the home. As a result, they suffer serious physical injuries, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, mental trauma, and even death.
Physically, children are also more susceptible to injury than adults as their bodies are still developing. Violence can lead to stunted brain development which affects their concentration, language development and ability to read and write.
The report – which attracted widespread media attention – was launched in four countries during the week of 11 August: Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.
More than 50 people attended the launch in Port Moresby to hear from the Minister for Police, CEOs of the four major INGOs and PNG Tribal Foundations Girigi Daroa-Maong.
Speaking at the launch, Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena described the overwhelming figures in the Unseen and Unsafe report as ‘heart-wrenching’.
“Anyone confronted by these figures would agree that this is just horrific. It’s time to put children at the heart of all of Australia’s development programs, with policies and resources that prioritise child protection and child rights.”
In Timor-Leste (pictured above), the first lady Cidalia Lopes Nobre Mouzinho Guterres launched the report with a plea to those in attendance to make addressing violence in the home their top priority. The event was very well attended with up to a hundred people, including the Children’s’ Rights Commissioner, young people, DFAT, police and representatives from DFAT present.
Similarly, the report was well received by media and stakeholders in the Solomon Islands. Plan International Solomon Islands youth champion, Margaret, wrote in the Canberra Times that the international community must listen to young people.
“There is a silent epidemic in my country. Where I live in the Solomon Islands, every single day children – and especially girls – are facing violence. It goes ‘unseen’ because it happens behind closed doors, in the family home. For any girl, breaking expectations and refusing chores can lead to violence,” she said.
“This crisis may be happening behind closed doors but I see what it does to people in my country. The world needs to listen to the experiences of children and young people, especially girls. We all need to do better, for the sake of every child and their future.”
In Fiji (above), Vani Catanasiga, the Executive Director Fiji Council of Social Services launched the report in front of more than 50 dignitaries representing ministries, the UN, donors, Pacific Island Forum Secretariat faith leaders and youth activists.
At the launch, youth advocate Zac Simmons from Kids Link Fiji said: “The reality is, children are still being beaten up and neglected, not only in their own homes but in public spaces as well. If society can’t raise a child in a loving environment, how can we expect him or her to treat others with love?”
One of the major findings of the report was a lack of dedicated development funding to address the issue, with just 0.1% of all Australian foreign aid to the region being directed to programs specifically addressing violence against children.
The report authors strongly recommend the Australian government significantly increases its ending violence against children ODA allocation to $55 million over three years in the Pacific and Timor-Leste (which is 1.5% of regional ODA).