Every year, more than one billion children – or half of the world’s children – experience some form of violence.
Current data indicates that up to 50% of sexual assaults worldwide are committed against girls under the age of 16. Risks are particularly high in conflict-affected countries. Around the world, at least 72 million children are living among or near armed groups who have a history of perpetrating sexual violence against children.
The impact on children can include immediate physical injuries, psychological harm, and life-affecting long-term physical conditions. This may result in the survivor being burdened with lifelong costs of healthcare and a loss in quality of life, alongside the possibility of early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and lower levels of education.
Child marriage also exposes girls to abuse, and children who are born of sexual violence often face stigma and are excluded from their communities which has a knock-on effect on their health and wellbeing.
The impact on children since Covid
Evidence suggests that sexual violence against children, and especially child marriage, increased during the pandemic. Measures to prevent the spread of Covid meant that normal child protection and monitoring services could not operate fully, and the widespread closure of schools pushed many girls towards child marriage.
The pandemic also caused a surge in poverty and in turn an increase in negative coping mechanisms such as early marriage and child labour. World Vision research shows that there was a 163% increase in child marriages in the first 18 months of the pandemic, compared to the 18 months leading up to March 2020. Other forms of sexual violence, including rape of children and attempted rape, also increased by 50%.
Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Conference
The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict conference is an international conference, organised and hosted by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). 2022 marked ten years since the launch of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative by former Foreign Secretary William Hague & United Nations Ambassador Angelina Jolie.
World Vision attended and spoke at the conference to highlight the importance of involving children and youth in all levels of decision-making, the vital role that faith leaders have in addressing stigma associated with sexual violence, and the need for countries to focus on children affected by conflict-related sexual violence in their responses. World Vision has also been working with survivors and faith leaders to condemn sexual violence and end stigma faced by survivors and children born of this violence.
See more about this work and the impact it has had.