The Blog

Dangerous Childhoods Marred by Violence

I met Bryan, who is also 11. He loves cycling, but he's only allowed to cycle down the road as far as his mother can see him. One of the reasons that he can't go any further is that his older brother did. His brother ended up in a gang and he died six months ago. He was just 17. Being a mother in El-Salvador is a high-wire emotional act...

I am just back from El- Salvador - the child murder capital of the world, where children have been telling me about the fear they face every day.

When I was there, I found myself thinking of my daughter, who has just turned 11 and is starting secondary school. She is loving the freedom of walking to school and going to the park with her friends, without her parents around.

In El-Salvador, I found children of exactly the same age who are too scared to walk beyond their own front doors. I met Bryan, who is also 11. He loves cycling, but he's only allowed to cycle down the road as far as his mother can see him. One of the reasons that he can't go any further is that his older brother did. His brother ended up in a gang and he died six months ago. He was just 17.

Being a mother in El-Salvador is a high-wire emotional act. Maria (not her real name) told us about the threats and intimidation she and her son have faced as the result of a gang at his school. Her words are heart-breaking:

"The gangsters sent him home after beating him and told me that if I didn't send them US$500.00 with my son the next day, they would send me a box with my son inside. I did not send him to school, I went to inform against them but police did nothing. The next day, when I returned home at night, I found that the walls of my house were painted with blood."

Gang-related violence is a leading cause of school dropouts in El-Salvador. And hearing Maria's chilling story it's not hard to see why. Gang violence fuels the country's high child homicide rate. In 2012 and 2013, 984 children and adolescents were killed, of whom 82 percent were male adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 years. The country has made strides in under five mortality rates, but mothers are losing their sons as teenagers.

Stories such as these underline why Unicef UK has launched its Children in Danger campaign, which seeks to keep children safe. To launch the campaign, we have published a report focusing on violence. The report finds that one child or adolescent dies through an act of violence every 5 minutes and not just in warzones, but also in places of supposed peace. The grim reality is that millions of children across the globe are in danger of violence and abuse on their own doorsteps - in their homes, schools and communities.

The report's statistics shine light on exactly how common violence is. In Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe as many as one in three boys and one in six girls experience sexual violence. One in six children is subjected to the most severe forms of corporal punishment worldwide. In some countries, for example, children are regularly punished by being burned.

The sad truth is that for too long the world has tolerated the extremely high levels of violence faced by children. This needs to change. The current Millennium Development Goals will expire in 2015 and governments are now negotiating a new set of global development targets to replace them. Unicef UK is calling for a new target to end violence, exploitation and abuse of children to be included. There have been great strides in health and education as a result of the Millennium Development Goals, but ending violence against children has not seen the same concerted action.

A global target would galvanise action to make the world safer for children. We know from Unicef's work on the ground that violence can be prevented and survivors supported to rebuild their lives - but this work needs to be rolled out on a wider scale.

We are urging the Prime Minister David Cameron to champion a new global target to end violence, building on the UK government's vital work at the Girls' Summit and Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

It is wrong that we live in a world where children are too scared to walk out of their front doors. With political will and action, we can change this. Bryan - and others - deserve the chance to be children again, to play on their streets, to learn in their schools, without fear.

Support Unicef UK's call for a new global target to end violence against children by visiting http://www.unicef.org.uk/danger