New report reveals harrowing scale of child protection crisis in Pacific and Timor-Leste

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A sobering new report details, for the first time, the shocking levels of physical, emotional and sexual violence, as well as neglect faced by children living in the Pacific and Timor-Leste.

Released at the United Nations High-level Political Forum in New York, the Unseen and Unsafe: Underinvestment in Ending Violence Against Children in the Pacific and Timor-Leste’report shows that over 70 percent or 4 million children across eight countries experience violent discipline at home, including a staggering 2.8 million (75 percent of the child population) in Papua New Guinea.

The report finds there have also been inadequate levels of funding and policy measures to address the epidemic. Just $1.1 million or 0.1 percent of all Australian foreign aid to the Pacific and Timor-Leste in 2017 was directed to programs specifically addressing violence against children. Only $3.4 million was spent in total by all foreign donors on this critical issue.

Children who face violence and abuse often suffer from serious physical injuries, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, mental trauma, and even death.

Physically, children are also more susceptible to injury than adults as their bodies are still developing. Violence can lead to stunted brain development which affects their concentration, language development and ability to read and write.

The research, conducted by ChildFund, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision, also demonstrates:

  • 1 in 4 adolescent girls experienced physical violence, and 1 in 10 sexual violence;
  • In Papua New Guinea, more than half of all sexual violence cases referred to medical clinics in Port Moresby and Tari were against children; and
  • In Papua New Guinea, 27 per cent of parents or carers reported beating their children “over and over as hard as they could”.

Save the Children Acting Head of Policy and author of Unseen and Unsafe, Kavitha Suthanthiraraj, said this report reveals just how big the child protection crisis is in the Pacific and Timor-Leste and the devastating lifelong impact this has on children.

“While the drivers of violence in the region are complex and inter-generational, targeted programs are making a difference. Interventions targeted at increasing children’s resilience and ability to seek support when they are unsafe; and positive parenting training with parents to support them to better understand the impact of their actions, are reducing violence and abuse against children.

“From our research, it’s clear that more targeted aid expenditure on ending violence against children is needed to really address this epidemic. As the largest aid donor to the Pacific, Australia must lead by example and continue working closely with Pacific governments on this.”

ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence said home is an environment that should be safe and protected, and family violence has a profound impact on children. However, there have been some positive developments.

“At community levels, we are seeing an increase in the number of grassroots organisations which offer interventions that prevent and respond to family and sexual violence. These include initiatives to change cultural norms in rural communities, school education programs which focus on respectful relationships, and the establishment of safe houses for women and children.

“Australia has a vital role to play in supporting those working for change in the Pacific.”

World Vision Australia CEO Claire Rogers, called on the Australian Government to prioritise the protection of children through its aid program.

“Every child deserves to feel safe at home, at school and in the community. But sadly, millions of children in our region experience violence.

“Given that the impact of abuse can last well into adulthood, more investment would drastically improve these children’s life trajectories”.

Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena described the overwhelming figures in the Unseen and Unsafe report as ‘heart-wrenching’.

“Anyone confronted by these figures would agree that this is just horrific. All children deserve to feel safe, to be healthy and loved, no matter where they live. For too long, confronting this silent epidemic of violence against children has been ignored in foreign policy. We cannot let these children down.

“It’s time to put children at the heart of all of Australia’s development programs, with policies and resources that prioritise child protection and child rights.”

Download a copy of the report


Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale, announced the party’s new Peace and Demilitarisation Policy today during a speech at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University.

With a focus on “peace and global prosperity, not more weapons and war” the Greens plan to rebuild the Australian Aid program, reduce government spending on weapons manufacturing, and increase climate finance by up to $1.6bn a year.

The new policy includes a commitment to restoring aid volumes in line with internationally agreed targets.

CEO of ChildFund Australia Nigel Spence said: “We very much welcome the Senator’s announcement to increase Australia’s overseas development assistance to 0.7% by 2030.

“Five years of consecutive cuts means that Australia is spending less on overseas development assistance than at any point in its history.

“As a member of the OECD, Australia is ranked as having the 9th largest economy. Yet when it comes to our commitment to reducing poverty, we fall to 19th place.”

Strengthening the governance of Australia’s international development program is also welcomed by ChildFund, with the Senator outlining plans to establish an independent aid agency and appoint a minister for International Development and the Pacific.

Mr Spence said: “The reinstatement of a Minister to represent the Australian Aid program and the Pacific would be a significant step to elevate the importance of overseas development within government and give dedicated attention to this important portfolio.”

ChildFund acknowledges the positive intent of the Greens policy to upskill Australia’s defence personnel so that they are better equipped for future humanitarian and peacekeeping missions “given that climate change looms as a threat multiplier and an ongoing trigger for instability and humanitarian crises”. But ChildFund also urges caution in order to avoid the risk of the militarisation of aid.

Mr Spence added: “As we now enter a period of intense election campaigning, ChildFund urges all sides of politics to work together to ensure we build bipartisan support of what is one of Australia’s greatest assets.

“Poverty reduction, increased prosperity, stronger democracies and greater peace and stability – this is the impact that Australian Aid can have, for Australians at home as well as vulnerable children and families living in poverty.”