© Credits

Violence against children


    Violence against children includes all forms of violence against people under 18 years old. For infants and younger children, violence mainly involves child maltreatment (i.e. physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect) at the hands of parents and other authority figures. Boys and girls are at equal risk of physical and emotional abuse and neglect, and girls are at greater risk of sexual abuse. As children reach adolescence, peer violence and intimate partner violence, in addition to child maltreatment, become highly prevalent.

    Violence against children can be prevented. Preventing and responding to violence against children requires that efforts systematically address risk and protective factors at all four interrelated levels of risk (individual, relationship, community, society).

    A May 2016 World Health Assembly resolution endorsed the first ever WHO Global plan of action on strengthening the role of the health system within a national multisectoral response to address interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children.

    According to this plan, WHO in collaboration with Member States and other partners, is committed to:

    • Monitoring the global magnitude and characteristics of violence against children and supporting country efforts to document and measure such violence.
    • Maintaining an electronic information system that summarizes the scientific data on the burden, risk factors and consequences of violence against children, and the evidence for its preventability.
    • Developing and disseminating evidence-based technical guidance documents, norms and standards for preventing and responding to violence against children.
    • Regularly publishing global status reports on country efforts to address violence against children through national policies and action plans, laws, prevention programmes and response services.
    • Supporting countries and partners in implementing evidence-based prevention and response strategies, such as those included in INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children.
    • Collaborating with international agencies and organizations to reduce and eliminate violence against children globally, through initiatives such as the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, Together for Girls and the Violence Prevention Alliance.


    Child maltreatment

    Child maltreatment is the abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age. It includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Exposure to intimate partner violence is also sometimes included as a form of child maltreatment.

    Child maltreatment has enormous immediate and long-term repercussions. Beyond death, physical injury and disability, violence can lead to stress that impairs brain development and damages the nervous and immune systems. This in turn is associated with delayed cognitive development, poor school performance and dropout, mental health problems, suicide attempts, increased health-risk behaviours, revictimization and the perpetration of violence. The good news is that child maltreatment can be prevented through interventions that support parents and caregivers, promote non-violent norms and values, provide education and life skills training, strengthen families’ income and economic security, offer high quality response and support services, create and sustain safe environments for children, and implement and enforce laws against child maltreatment.

    WHO, in collaboration with a number of partners:

    • provides technical and normative guidance for evidence-based child maltreatment prevention;
    • advocates for increased international support for and investment in evidence-based child maltreatment prevention;
    • provides technical support for evidence-based child maltreatment prevention programmes in several low- and middle-income countries. 



    Youth violence

    Youth violence is a global public health problem. It includes a range of acts from bullying and physical fighting, to more severe sexual and physical assault to homicide. 

    Youth violence dramatically increases health, welfare and criminal justice costs; reduces productivity; and generally undermines the fabric of society. Beyond deaths, injuries and psychological harm, youth violence can lead to increased health risk behaviours such as smoking, substance abuse, unsafe sex, and further violence. These in turn are associated with chronic respiratory diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Effective prevention and response strategies include those that promote parenting and early childhood development; school-based bullying prevention, academic, and life and social skills development programmes; therapeutic approaches with high-risk individuals, and community- and society-level approaches like reducing access to and misuse of alcohol and firearms, hotspots and problem-oriented policing, urban upgrading, and poverty de-concentration.

    WHO and partners decrease youth violence through initiatives that help to identify, quantify and respond to the problem, these include:

    • developing a package for schools-based violence prevention programmes;
    • drawing attention to the magnitude of youth violence and the need for prevention;
    • building evidence on the scope and types of violence in different settings;
    • developing guidance for Member States and all relevant sectors to prevent youth violence and strengthen responses to it;
    • supporting national efforts to prevent youth violence; and
    • collaborating with international agencies and organizations to prevent youth violence globally.



    Our work


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    Infographics on online violence against children


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    WHO guidelines on parenting interventions to prevent maltreatment and enhance parent–child relationships with children aged 0–17 years: web annex: GRADE evidence profiles and evidence to decision tables

    This web annex forms part of the WHO guidelines on parenting interventions to prevent maltreatment and enhance parent–child relationships with children...

    WHO guidelines on parenting interventions to prevent maltreatment and enhance parent–child relationships with children aged 0–17 years

    This guideline provides evidence-based recommendations on parenting interventions for parents and caregivers of children aged 0–17 years that are...

    What works to prevent violence against children online?

    The report, What works to prevent online violence against children, presents ways to address the growing worldwide concern of keeping children safe online,...

    What works to prevent online violence against children? executive summary

    The report, What works to prevent online violence against children, presents ways to address the growing worldwide concern of keeping children safe online,...

    Country profiles

    Country profiles present selected data, statistics and information to provide national health profiles at given points in time.