What Is Violence Against Children?

Violence is a broad reaching term that encompasses numerous types of child maltreatment. Child trafficking, forced labor, child soldiering, intimate partner violence and domestic violence are a few of the most common offenses.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 2 children ages 2 to 17 suffer from some form of violence each year.1

Violence against children occurs when perpetrators such as relatives, teachers, community members, peers or strangers violate a child’s physical, sexual or emotional well-being. Violence against children is a global crisis and a human rights violation. Victims exist in every country.

Poverty exacerbates the risk for violence, abuse and exploitation of children. Children who lack basic needs are often left vulnerable, fending for themselves. Perpetrators of violence prey on these marginalized children. They use the child’s desperation to their advantage.

“… [T]he exploitation of childhood constitutes the evil the most hideous, the most unbearable to the human heart …” Albert Thomas, first director of the International Labour Organization

In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, the most comprehensive and ambitious anti-poverty plan the world has embarked upon. Its 17 goals have 169 success targets connected to them. Target 16.2 focuses on eradicating abuse, trafficking, exploitation and all forms of violence against children. Though an ambitious target, protection is necessary. Progress is possible.

Child Trafficking

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime [Trafficking Protocol] agreed upon a global definition of trafficking in persons (adults) and in children. They established that trafficking in children includes an action — the child is recruited, transported, obtained, enticed or harbored — for the purpose of exploitation.

Tens of thousands of human trafficking victims are detected and reported throughout the world each year. However, the hidden nature of the crime means actual numbers are far higher. And when regions experience rapid inflation and economic recession, more people are exposed to the risk of trafficking because millions of adults and children lose their jobs or drop out of school to work.2

  • Children account for about one-third of detected victims of trafficking.3
  • Fifty percent of detected trafficking victims are exploited for sex.3
Child Sex Trafficking

Child sex trafficking involves exploitation of children in commercial sexual activity. Even though sexual violence data is difficult to gather, as many victims are unwilling or unable to report their situation, the numbers that do exist are also far too high.

Traffickers often target innocent children and exploit their inherent vulnerability. Children who lack relational or emotional support are at a higher risk of manipulation. Traffickers cultivate a false sense of trust by offering food, shelter, attention or other qualities that they crave. Recent technological advancements have created a more convenient global marketing and recruitment channel for traffickers to use.

The stigma that sexual abuse victims are subject to carry in many countries hinders them from acknowledging or reporting the act. Justice systems in many lower-income countries do not have the capacity to provide justice for child victims or due consequence to the perpetrators. Without the threat of punishment, child sex trafficking continues.

Forced Child Labor

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”

Poverty further increases the chance of children being coerced into working. The ILO finds that poverty is the greatest force driving children into the workplace. Families drowning in financial struggles often turn to their children to stay afloat.

In many cases, children are forced to forgo their education for the sake of putting food on their family’s table. Education is an integral element of child development and the fight against generational poverty.

In the world’s poorest countries, slightly more than 1 in 4 children are engaged in child labour.4

Countries riddled with cultural and economic pressures can view children as sources of income. These pressures can deeply ingrain child labor into citizens’ habits. They discount its illegal nature, risks and harmful effects.

Families in poverty desperate for financial relief can get entangled in debt bondage schemes. These schemes occur when families incur copious amounts of debt. At the hands of harmful creditors, they are forced to enslave a relative to pay the debt off. Single mothers are often prime targets of these schemes.

At its worst, child labor places vulnerable children at risk of exploitation as severe as modern-day slavery with involvement in sex trafficking, prostitution, drug dealing, pornography production or child soldiering.

Child Soldiering

Children enter armed conflict through many different means. Some are recruited, some are abducted, and others voluntarily join to escape poverty or serve their community. These boys and girls are used as fighters, spies, messengers, cooks and even sex slaves.

Regardless of their role, child soldiers witness or participate in violent acts. Many children suffer long-term physical injuries, psychological consequences and social rejection. The healing process and reintegration of the child into society after combat is incredibly long and laborious.

The U.N. welcomed UNICEF’s “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign in 2014, a global consensus that children under the age of 18 should not be used in combat. Since the launch, there have been significant releases and reintegration of children back into civilian society.

Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence includes physical, sexual and emotional violence committed by a current or previous intimate partner. Both males and females can be victims of intimate partner violence, but it occurs inordinately more with females. For children, intimate partner violence commonly affects girls in early or forced marriages.

Domestic Violence

Violence can also occur within a child's family. For victims, home can feel like prison. In many countries, alcohol and drug use are seen as a part of everyday life. Abuse of these substances can manifest as physical and psychological aggression toward those they are closest to, including the children.

The Effects of Violence Against Children

Children who are victims of maltreatment or eyewitnesses to violent actions experience immediate and long-term repercussions.

  • Physical and psychological trauma.
  • Damages to the nervous and immune systems.
  • Harmful mental health impacts like anxiety and depression.
  • Negative coping behaviors such as crime, misuse of drugs and alcohol and high-risk sexual behaviors.
  • Increased exposure to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDS.
  • Social ostracism.
  • Unwanted pregnancies.
  • Severe physical injuries or disabilities.
  • Difficulties and/or absences from school.
  • Trouble finding a job.
  • Heightened risk of subsequent involvement in violence.
  • Major financial costs for the community.

Preventing Violence Against Children Through Child Sponsorship

At Compassion, we partner with thousands of local churches in low- and middle-income countries to identify children living in unsafe circumstances, including children especially vulnerable to violence.

Our Child Sponsorship Program helps combat child violence by expanding the circle of caring adults actively participating in a child’s life. It helps foster an environment where the child is known, loved and protected.

The minimum standards for our program dictate that each child development center provide four to eight hours of programming each week, at least 48 weeks out of the year, and that individual child attendance be taken each time the center is open. If a child doesn’t show up at the center, a staff member checks on the situation.

The child development center workers and church leaders running the program know each and every child they serve, investing in the child personally and relationally, as friends and mentors.

When a child in our program is exploited, traumatized, abused or victimized, they act immediately.

On average, a child enrolled in our sponsorship program spends 4,000 hours participating in safe, nurturing programs.
Child Protection: Our Highest Priority

Compassion’s approach to child protection begins with preventing abuse and violence against children whenever possible, especially before it begins. It is based on eight strongly held convictions, including:

  • No violence against children is justifiable.
  • Preventing violence against children is possible.
  • It’s everyone’s job to protect children.

When abuse or violence is reported or detected, our church partners intervene quickly seeking to provide restoration and healing. Through them, we help with legal resources to represent and defend the child’s rights.

We also work to restore and heal the child emotionally, physically and spiritually by providing medical care, counseling and safe shelter. The church-based child development center is a consistent source of support for the children and the families.

Protect a Child in Poverty From the Threat of Violence. Sponsor a Child Now!

Give With Confidence

With Compassion, your donation is used wisely to help children around the world.

Lock IconWe use industry-standard communication protocols to ensure your personal information is encrypted and transmitted without risk.

Trusted Charity Since 1952

Have Questions About Compassion and How We Work?

Donating to a charity is an important decision. So when you’re passionate about a cause and want to make a difference, we encourage you to do your research. Compassion is 100% committed to financial integrity, stewardship and using each dollar wisely. If you have any questions about Compassion or exactly how your donation will be used, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


Please call us at 800-336-7676, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. MT, to speak with a Compassion representative.


1 Global status report on preventing violence against children. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

2 “Share of Children Among Trafficking Victims Increases, Boys Five Times; COVID-19 Seen Worsening Overall Trend in Human Trafficking, Says UNODC Report.” 2 Feb. 21AD, www.unodc.org/unodc/press/releases/2021/February/share-of-children-among-trafficking-victims-increases--boys-five-times-covid-19-seen-worsening-overall-trend-in-human-trafficking--says-unodc-report.html.

3 UNODC, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2020(United Nations publication, Sales No. E.20.IV.3)

4 “Child Labour.” UNICEF DATA, 20 Jan. 2021, data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-labour/.