Violence against women and children

Violence against women and children

Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public
health problem and a violation of women's human rights.
Estimates published by WHO indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been
subjected to either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their
lifetime. Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and
may increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings.



The United Nations defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in,
or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such
acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."
Intimate partner violence refers to behavior by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical,
sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, and psychological abuse
and controlling behaviors.

Sexual violence is "any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s
sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It
includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with
a penis, other body part or object, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching and other non-contact

World report on violence and health

Global status report on violence prevention 2014 (Health, 2014)
The Global status report on violence prevention 2014, which reflects data from 133 countries, is the first
report of its kind to assess national efforts to address interpersonal violence, namely child maltreatment,
youth violence, intimate partner and sexual violence, and elder abuse.
Jointly published by WHO, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Office
on Drugs and Crime, the report reviews the current status of violence prevention efforts in countries, and
calls for a scaling up of violence prevention programmes; stronger legislation and enforcement of laws
relevant for violence prevention; and enhanced services for victims of violence.

Impact on children

Children who grow up in families where there is violence may suffer a range of behavioural and
emotional disturbances. These can also be associated with perpetrating or experiencing violence later in
life. Intimate partner violence has also been associated with higher rates of infant and child mortality and
morbidity (through, for example diarrheal disease or malnutrition and lower immunization rates). 1
1 Global status report on violence prevention 2014, WHO TEAM: Social Determinants of Health, Editors: World
Health Organization. ISBN – 978924156479



  • 1. Sexual violence
    2. Domestic violence
    3. Economic violence
    4. Emotional violence
    5. Psychological violence
    6. Physical violence
    7. Filicide
    8. Honor killing
    9. Human trafficking
    10. Female genital mutilation
    11. Child marriage
    12. Online or digital violence
    13. Cyberbullying
    14. Cyber bullying involves the sending of intimidating or threatening messages.

  • Non-consensual sexting

  • Non-consensual sexting involves the sending of explicit messages or photos without the recipient’s


    Doxing involves the public release of private or identifying information about the victim.
    Sexual violence is any sexual act committed against the will of another person, either when this person
    does not give consent or when consent cannot be given because the person is a child, has a mental
    disability, or is severely intoxicated or unconscious as a result of alcohol or drugs.
    Sexual violence can include the following
    Sexual harassment
    Sexual harassment encompasses non-consensual physical contact, like grabbing, pinching, slapping, or
    rubbing against another person in a sexual way. It also includes non-physical forms, such as catcalls,
    sexual comments about a person’s body or appearance, demands for sexual favors, sexually suggestive
    staring, stalking, and exposing one’s sex organs.


    Rape is any non-consensual vaginal, anal or oral penetration of another person with any bodily part or
    object. This can be by any person known or unknown to the survivor, within marriage and relationships,
    and during armed conflict.

    Corrective rape

    Corrective rape is a form of rape of perpetrated against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or
    gender identity. It is intended to force the victim to conform to heterosexuality or normative gender

    Rape culture

    Rape culture is the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified. It is
    rooted in patriarchy and fueled by persistent gender inequalities and biases about gender and sexuality.


    Violence against children includes all forms of violence against people under 18 years old, whether
    perpetrated by parents or other caregivers, peers, romantic partners, or strangers.
    Globally, it is estimated that up to 1 billion children aged 2–17 years, have experienced physical, sexual,
    or emotional violence or neglect in the past year.

  • Experiencing violence in childhood impacts lifelong health and well-being.
    Target 16.2 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking
    and all forms of violence against, and torture of, children”.
  • Types of violence against children

    Most violence against children involves at least one of six main types of interpersonal violence that tend
    to occur at different stages in a child’s development.
    I. Maltreatment (including violent punishment) involves physical, sexual and
    psychological/emotional violence; and neglect of infants, children and adolescents by parents,
    caregivers and other authority figures, most often in the home but also in settings such as schools
    and orphanages.

  • II. Bullying (including cyber-bullying) is unwanted aggressive behaviour by another child or group
    of children who are neither siblings nor in a romantic relationship with the victim. It involves
    repeated physical, psychological or social harm, and often takes place in schools and other
    settings where children gather, and online.
  • III. Youth violence is concentrated among children and young adults aged 10–29 years, occurs most
    often in community settings between acquaintances and strangers, includes bullying and physical
    assault with or without weapons (such as guns and knives), and may involve gang violence.

    IV. Intimate partner violence (or domestic violence) involves physical, sexual and emotional violence
    by an intimate partner or ex-partner. Although males can also be victims, intimate partner
    violence disproportionately affects females. It commonly occurs against girls within child
    marriages and early/forced marriages. Among romantically involved but unmarried adolescents it
    is sometimes called “dating violence”.

  • V. Sexual violence includes non-consensual completed or attempted sexual contact and acts of a
    sexual nature not involving contact (such as voyeurism or sexual harassment); acts of sexual
    trafficking committed against someone who is unable to consent or refuse; and online
  • VI. Emotional or psychological violence includes restricting a child’s movements, denigration,
    ridicule, threats and intimidation, discrimination, rejection and other non-physical forms of
    hostile treatment.
  • VII. When directed against girls or boys because of their biological sex or gender identity, any
    of these types of violence can also constitute gender-based violence.

    Violence against children has lifelong impacts on health and well-being of children, families
    communities, and nations. Violence against children can:
    A. Result in death. Homicide, which often involves weapons such as knives and firearms, is among
    the top four causes of death in adolescents, with boys comprising over 80% of victims and

  • B. Lead to severe injuries. For every homicide, there are hundreds of predominantly male victims of
    youth violence who sustain injuries because of physical fighting and assault.
    C. Impair brain and nervous system development. Exposure to violence at an early age can impair
    brain development and damage other parts of the nervous system, as well as the endocrine,
    circulatory, musculoskeletal, reproductive, and respiratory and immune systems, with lifelong
    consequences. As such, violence against children can negatively affect cognitive development
    and results in educational and vocational under-achievement.
  • D. Result in negative coping and health risk behaviors. Children exposed to violence and other
    adversities are substantially more likely to smoke, misuse alcohol and drugs, and engage in high-
    risk sexual behaviour. They also have higher rates of anxiety, depression, other mental health
    problems and suicide.
  • E. Lead to unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynecological problems, and sexually
    transmitted infections, including HIV.

    F. Contribute to a wide range of non-communicable diseases as children grow older. The increased
    risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health conditions is largely due to the
    negative coping and health risk behaviors associated with violence.

  • G. Impact opportunities and future generations. Children exposed to violence and other adversities
    are more likely to drop out of school, have difficulty finding and keeping a job, and are at
    heightened risk for later victimization and/or perpetration of interpersonal and self-directed
    violence, by which violence against children can affect the next generation.
  • Risk factors

    Violence against children is a multifaceted problem with causes at the individual, close relationship,
    community and societal levels. Important risk factors are:
    Individual level:

 biological and personal aspects such as sex and age
 lower levels of education
 low income
 having a disability or mental health problems
 identifying as or being identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
 harmful use of alcohol and drugs
 a history of exposure to violence.
Close-relationship level:
 Lack of emotional bonding between children and parents or caregivers
 Poor parenting practices
 Family dysfunction and separation
 Being associated with delinquent peers
 Witnessing violence between parents or caregivers
 Early or forced marriage.

Community level:

 High population density
 Low social cohesion and transient populations
 Easy access to alcohol and firearms
 High concentrations of gangs and illicit drug dealing.
Society level
 Social and gender norms that create a climate in which violence is normalized
 Health, economic, educational and social policies that maintain economic, gender and social
 Absent or inadequate social protection

 Post-conflict situations or natural disaster
 Settings with weak governance and poor law enforcement.


1. Implementation and enforcement of laws (for example, banning violent discipline and restricting
access to alcohol and firearms);
2. Norms and values change (for example, altering norms that condone the sexual abuse of girls or
aggressive behaviour among boys);
3. Safe environments (such as identifying neighborhood “hot spots” for violence and then
addressing the local causes through problem-oriented policing and other interventions);
4. Parental and caregiver support (for example, providing parent training to young, first time
5. Income and economic strengthening (such as microfinance and gender equity training);
6. Response services provision (for example, ensuring that children who are exposed to violence can
access effective emergency care and receive appropriate psychosocial support); and
7. Education and life skills (such as ensuring that children attend school, and providing life and
social skills training).
WHO response to women and children
A May 2016 World Health Assembly resolution endorsed the first ever WHO Global plan of action on
strengthening the role of the health system within a national multispectral response to address
interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children.
According to this plan, WHO in collaboration with Member States and other partners, is committed to:
i. Monitoring the global magnitude and characteristics of violence against children and supporting
country efforts to document and measure such violence.
ii. Maintaining an electronic information system that summarizes the scientific data on the burden,
risk factors and consequences of violence against children, and the evidence for its preventability.
iii. Developing and disseminating evidence-based technical guidance documents, norms and
standards for preventing and responding to violence against children.
iv. Regularly publishing global status reports on country efforts to address violence against children
through national policies and action plans, laws, prevention programmes and response services.
v. Supporting countries and partners in implementing evidence-based prevention and response
strategies, such as those included in INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against

vi. Collaborating with international agencies and organizations to reduce and eliminate violence
against children globally, through initiatives such as the Global Partnership to End Violence
against Children, Together for Girls and the Violence Prevention Alliance.

(1) Global prevalence of past-year violence against children: a systematic review and minimum estimates.
Hillis S, Mercy J, Amobi A, Kress H. Pediatrics 2016; 137(3): e20154079.
Writer: Law for Nations. Email:, website:,
Mobile: 01842459590.

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