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“The problem is silence”
Interview with Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro


The World Report on Violence against Children is the first comprehensive global attempt to describe the scale of all forms of violence against children and its impact. It approaches the issue from the perspectives of human rights, public health and child protection. UNESCO participated in the preparation of the report with an analysis of violence in education and corporal punishment in schools.
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro is the United Nations Independent Expert responsible for preparing the study. He presented the Study at a roundtable on violence against girls in school, held at UNESCO Headquarters on 23 November.

Interview by Edna Yahil, UNESCO's Bureau of Public Information.

Question: How prevalent is the problem of violence in schools?
It’s huge. There are hundreds of millions of kids and adolescents who are supposed to have protection and peace in schools but are being attacked by teachers and by caregivers. They are also abused by other children, while adults stand by without interfering.

There are many different forms that discrimination and violence take in schools. It can be teasing or name-calling, racial discrimination, gender discrimination or sexual orientation discrimination. The picture painted in the study is very serious. In many parts of the world, school is far from a safe haven or sanctuary that it is supposed to be.

Question: What are the effects of violence against children?
Violence perpetuates poverty, illiteracy and early mortality. Children who are harmed physically or emotionally cannot develop to their full capacities. It also negatively influences development. For a long time we only discussed access to education. But now we realize that access to education has to consider the issue of violence as well.

Question: Are girls being specifically targeted?
Today, the suffering of girls in schools and educational settings has become more visible. This phenomenon is common throughout the world, and may be particularly common and extreme in places where other forms of school violence occur. The Study suggests that gender-based violence stems from gender inequality, stereotypes and socially imposed roles.

The figures show that while boys have a greater risk of being physically abused, girls are more likely to be victims of sexual violence. While working on the study, I heard terrible stories of girls in some regions who are afraid to go to the toilet for fear of being raped! It is no wonder that girls drop out of school—they do so because they are afraid.

Question: What can be done?
First, countries need to prioritize the prevention of violence against children. Both countries and civil society can work together to transform attitudes relating to discrimination between boys and girls, corporal punishment and tradition prejudicial practices. We also need to train teachers and others who work with children so that they can help prevent violence. One practice that works is when schools adopt codes of conduct that apply to all personnel and students.


World Report on Violence against Children


About Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro

Eliminating Corporal Punishment
UNESCO Background Study

UNESCO and Human Rights

Photo: © UNESCO/Edna Yahil
Publication Date 24-11-2006 8:00 am
Publication Date 24-11-2006 8:00 am
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