The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) recognises children as the subjects of rights, as well as their vulnerability and need for “special safeguards and care”.1 The UNCRC is notably one of the most ratifed UN conventions in history and has done much to progress the rights of children globally.
And yet, in the global society with international conventions endorsing the “rights” of all, some of the most vulnerable children continue to suffer from extreme forms of violence and abuse. This report demonstrates that even when children are presumed to be in the care of society itself they are vulnerable to and at risk of violence.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has identifed “children not living with their biological parents, but in various forms of alternative care” as one of the groups of children who are “likely to be exposed to violence”.2
Without the fundamental protection of a caring family, these children are vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Without “suitable” quality care, they risk violence at the hands of their caregivers, families, peers and the wider community.
In 2009, the UN endorsed the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (the Guidelines). These set out “desirable orientations for policy and practice” to “enhance” the implementation of the UNCRC for children in alternative care. The Guidelines reiterate the right of “Every child and young person [to] live in a supportive, protective and caring environment that promotes his/her full potential” (§4).
This report draws on evidence from an extensive global literature review, and assessments of the implementation of the Guidelines in 21 countries around the world.3 It makes bold claims about high levels of vulnerability and risk of violence facing children in alternative care, but concludes that violence is not inevitable, and with an emphasis on providing quality care it is possible to mitigate the risks of harm for all children.
Violence against children in alternative care is preventable, but fnding the answers as to why children are subjected to violence and what can be done to protect them is complex. Violence is the result of multifaceted social issues and political decisions that can only be addressed with adequate knowledge, political will and resources.
In beginning to untangle this complexity and add to the knowledge of what makes children vulnerable and puts them at increased risk, this report provides policymakers and practitioners with insight into the challenges of protecting children, and makes recommendations for change to ensure that every child is provided with safe and quality care.