Ground Reality

25 Feb 2012
Violence against the voiceless

Violence against the voiceless
Nepal is a signatory to many United Nations conventions and treaties that seek to protect and prevent discrimination and violence against women and children. 
Recent studies conducted by the government including the National Demographic Health Survey 2011 and the MICS 2010, reveal that 50 percent of women feel that beatings are sometimes justified, and 34 percent of women aged 15-49 have experienced violence at home since age 15. These findings make UNICEF extremely concerned that these violent acts are being committed against women and especially the poor, illiterate and disadvantaged. 
These are crimes against women who are too poor to complain or seek redress, ignorant about their rights and remedial actions, and disadvantaged by a system where her caste or gender has no voice and often no external support. 
On the same note, the prevalence of violence against children, the other half of the voiceless majority, is equally grave and alarming. While children and youth under 18 comprise almost two thirds of the population, a disproportionate number of them experience some form of violence everyday. 
Whether it is at the hands of parents or teachers, or in their communities or at the hands of their employers, many children report being subjected to violence—physical, verbal, sexual or psychological.
Findings from a soon to be published UNICEF report that focused on 36 districts in three regions note that 82.3 percent of children reported to have been “hit, smacked, kicked, punched, had their ears pulled or twisted or hurt in any way by an adult in the household.” At school, another 87.5 percent of children reported that a teacher had subjected them to one of the above violent acts. 
According to the government’s 2010 MICS4 Survey, approximately 83 percent of children aged 2-14 are subjected to violent discipline, while 40 percent of caregivers believe children need to be physically punished. 
And these are children who have a home to go to, and family that loves them. 
The plight of working children, or those that live away from their families, is severe and they face more abuse. Whether as domestic servants, or agricultural labourers or engaged in more hazardous work in brick kilns, rag picking, mining, carpet weaving, or as porters; these children who number around 3.14 million, toil everyday to support their families and themselves, and in the process jeopardise their own futures.
This happens because being at work prevents children from attending school and from play, and from developing into confident adults. It leaves them ill equipped to fend for themselves and stuck in low paying jobs, which perpetuates the poverty and disillusionment. 
A child who does not have the opportunity to go to school will not develop the necessary skills and knowledge needed in our society; will probably not learn how to prevent or reduce behaviours and practices that might cause health hazards; and will less likely understand the importance of education. 
Although the Government of Nepal has made significant progress in furthering the rights of children and women, and outlawing many harmful traditional practices, more has to be done to see this enforced and observed by all stakeholders in society.
Preventing and responding to violence is a serious matter, and we need not only the right legal frameworks and policies but also technical capacity and adequate services. 
Today, quality services for children at risk and for children who need to be protected from situations of harm and serious vulnerability are almost non-existent in the country, and the budgets allocated to the provision of preventive and response services remain largely insufficient to cover the needs.
The UNICEF family, committed to the children and women of Nepal since 1967 has partnered with the government to bring about wide ranging changes to policy and laws to protect and prevent violence against this voiceless majority. 
Maybe this is not enough. Maybe it is time for us all to look into our hearts and speak out—to our friends and neighbours, in our communities and schools, in our villages and towns—so that in our own little ways we can help to right this great wrong. 
So that we, ordinary women and men, girls and boys, friends and acquaintances—act as the agents of change. 
Article by Hanaa Singer. She is the Country Representative for UNICEF, Nepal.