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Who perpetrates violence against children? A systematic analysis of age- and sex-specific data


The epidemiology of violence against children is likely to differ substantially by sex and age of the victim and the perpetrator. Thus far, investment in effective prevention strategies has been hindered by lack of clarity in the burden of childhood violence across these dimensions. We produced the first age-specific and sex-specific prevalence estimates by perpetrator type for physical, sexual and emotional violence against children globally.

Design We used random effects meta-regression to estimate prevalence. Estimates were adjusted for relevant quality covariates, variation in definitions of violence and weighted by region-specific, age-specific and sex-specific population data to ensure estimates reflect country population structures.

Data sources Secondary data from 600 population or school-based representative datasets and 43 publications obtained via systematic literature review, representing 13 830 estimates from 171 countries.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies Estimates for recent violence against children aged 0–19 were included.

Results The most common perpetrators of physical and emotional violence for both boys and girls across a range of ages are household members, with prevalence often surpassing 50%, followed by student peers. Children reported experiencing more emotional than physical violence from both household members and students. The most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls aged 15–19 years are intimate partners; however, few data on other perpetrators of sexual violence against children are systematically collected internationally. Few age-specific and sex-specific data are available on violence perpetration by schoolteachers; however, existing data indicate high prevalence of physical violence from teachers towards students. Data from other authority figures, strangers, siblings and other adults are limited, as are data on neglect of children.

Conclusions Without further investment in data generation on violence exposure from multiple perpetrators for boys and girls of all ages, progress towards Sustainable Development Goals 4, 5 and 16 may be slow. Despite data gaps, evidence shows violence from household members, peers in school and for girls, from intimate partners, should be prioritised for prevention.


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Publication date: 2018

Author(s): K. Devries, L. Knight, M Petzold, L. Maxwell, A. Williams, Claudia Cappa, E. Chan, C. Garcia-Moreno, H. Kress, H. Hollis, Amber Peterman, S.D. Walsh, S. Kishor, A. Guedes, S. Bott, B. Butron, C. Watts, N. Abrahams

Journal: BMJ Paediatrics Open

Volume: 2

Language: English

Peer reviewed: YES

Related Innocenti Project(s):

Social protection and cash transfers