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Issue No: 138
October 3, 2009

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Human Rights Monitor

New initiative to address sexual violence

THE Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), five United Nations organizations (UNICEF, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNIFEM, WHO) and private sector supporters will join together later today via the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in a new approach to address the rights violations and health impacts of sexual violence against girls. According to the World Health Organization, in 2002 approximately 150 million girls experienced some form of sexual violence with physical contact.

“Sexual violence against children is a gross violation of their rights, a moral and ethical outrage and an assault on the world's conscience,” said Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF. “Sexual abuse can lead to lost childhoods, abandoned education, physical and emotional problems, the spread of HIV, and an often irrevocable loss of dignity and self-esteem.”

In 2007 CDC, UNICEF and several local institutions partnered to implement a national survey on violence against girls and young women in Swaziland. Swaziland has the highest prevalence of HIV among adults globally. The survey showed that approximately one-third of girls had a history of sexual violence. Additionally, more than 40% of those who experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes had two or more incidences prior to age 18.

This survey led to a series of policy and legislative interventions in Swaziland, including establishment of the nation's first Sexual Offenses Unit for children, and a push for finalization of legislation against domestic violence and sexual offences which is due for presentation to parliament by end of October.

“While it is generally known that sexual violence against girls is a global problem, very limited data exist on the extent of this problem in the developing world. Obtaining valid data is a key step toward mobilizing policy and other positive interventions,” said Dr. Rodney Hammond, Director of the Division of Violence Prevention in CDC's Injury Center.

“Sexual violence, including coercion, abuse, exploitation, rape and trafficking, has a devastating impact on children, particularly adolescent and pre-adolescent girls, who are among the most vulnerable members of any society,” said Gary Cohen, Board Director of the CDC Foundation and the US Fund for UNICEF, and Executive Vice President, BD. “This grave injustice ruins lives, undermines human potential, and drives the cycle of infectious disease spread, increasing the population of people who require treatment. It also has broader societal impacts, because girls who are protected and educated contribute disproportionately back to their families and communities.”

Research demonstrates that sexual violence against girls is a direct and an indirect driver of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Evidence shows that the risk of HIV infection is increased following forced sex, especially among children. Gender inequity and partner violence are associated with a substantial part of new HIV infections in Africa, and girls who have experienced sexual coercion are less likely to use condoms and more likely to experience STIs. Stopping sexual violence also helps to protect girls from unwanted pregnancies and the risk of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

“Sexual violence against girls increases their vulnerability to HIV infection and must be stopped,” said Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS, Executive Director. “AIDS responses must include initiatives to stop sexual violence as an integral part of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.”

The initiative partners are working together to:
*Provide funding to CDC and UNICEF to expand surveillance of sexual violence against girls in developing and emerging countries.
*Develop a technical package of interventions for implementation at a country level to reduce the incidence of sexual violence against girls, based on data obtained and proven intervention strategies.
*Prepare and launch a major media campaign to elevate awareness of this problem and motivate social and behavioral change.

These three intervention strategies are pillars of what is expected to emerge as a global movement to address this devastating human injustice and public health problem.

“Sexual violence is a major priority that must be tackled by all, through many interventions,” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA. “We hope our partnership in this initiative will help reduce such violence through the concrete actions that it proposes.”

Source: UNICEF Press release.


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