Child abuse is a global epidemic — we need global action to eradicate it

Child abuse is a global epidemic — we need global action to eradicate it
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In May of this year, a 3-year-old girl was raped in India.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a child is sexually abused in India, my home country, every 15 minutes.

But India is far from alone.

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The global nature of this scourge is laid bare in a report released by The Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Childhood Foundation. It takes place mostly in the shadows, but sexual violence against children is happening everywhere, regardless of a country’s economic status or its citizens’ quality of life.

In 2014, 1 billion children between the ages of 2 and 17 were the victims of physical, sexual, emotional or multiple types of violence. One statistic suggests that 200 million children worldwide face sexual violence annually.

Experts generally concur that sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in the world, and one there is a general reluctance to discuss. This means that the statistics are likely to portray only a fraction of the extent of this epidemic. Meanwhile, millions of children suffer in silence, sometimes living with their abusers, who can often be family members, neighbors, trusted friends and authority figures.

Human trafficking adds a further dimension of horror. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, and many of them — particularly girls — are forcibly exploited for sex work.

The Internet has dramatically increased the scale of abuse, with INTERPOL’s Child Sexual Exploitation database alone holding more than 1.5 million images of child sexual abuse. Analysis shows that 84 percent of the images contain explicit sexual activity and, shockingly, that the younger the victim, the more severe the abuse. The Internet Watch Foundation found that online material containing child sexual abuse increased by 35 percent between 2016 and 2017.

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It is important to remember that the exploitation of children on the internet is often a for-profit enterprise. Moreover, once these images find their way to the internet, it is nearly impossible to completely erase them, victimizing these children in perpetuity, long after the physical abuse may have stopped.

Absent in all of this is a sense of urgent action from the world at large. From the institutionalized cover-ups in the Catholic Church to the victimization of children in war zones, we are failing to protect children. Especially when doing so runs contrary to Sustainable Development Goal SDG 16.2, which aims to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.”

Our collective failure to protect the most vulnerable among us is a disgrace. It is our moral duty to speak up and end this horror with a sense of urgency. Far from simply stopping there, responsible entities around the world, whether they be governments, international institutions or non-governmental organizations, must unite in order to act and eliminate this scourge from existence.

This global epidemic needs global action to eradicate. This can come in the form of pooling resources, such as funding and capacity. There can be concerted international effort from law enforcement and easing of restrictions to allow agencies in different countries to more freely share information when it pertains to exploitation of a minor. Countries can jointly pledge to more harshly prosecute and punish those exploiting children or those continuing to practice child marriage

These are just a few of numerous actions that can be taken. The reality is that many of these are already taking place, but in discrete pockets, with countries coordinating very little with one another. What is needed to bring together all these actions is moral leadership and political will.

No child should grow up in the specter of violence and abuse. Regardless of where a child is born or the circumstances of his or her upbringing, their absolute right to a safe, happy and carefree childhood must be guaranteed.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations resident coordinator to Kenya. A decorated Army Special Forces Veteran, he has also served in the United Nations Children's Fund, United Nations Development Program and United Nations Population Fund. Follow him on Twitter @sidchat1