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Asia Attempts to Understand, Reduce Violence Against Kids

Cambodian schoolchildren walk on a muddy road near the dam site of Steung Mean Chey after they participated in an Intentional Children's Day event in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.

Cambodia has launched a U.N.- backed survey into violence against children that found most abuse is carried out by family or adult relatives.

The survey in Cambodia, part of a U.N. program on the extent of child violence, found emotional, sexual and physical abuse of children was rampant, with more than half of minors encountering some form of physical violence by age 18.

The survey, with the backing of the Cambodian Government, found a quarter of children were subjected to emotional abuse, often by parents or a close relative, while five percent of males and females reported sexual abuse as a child.

U.N. special representative on violence against children Marta Santos Pais says the survey's findings highlight how children often remain silent to abuse, an outcome that can perpetuate a cycle of violence into the next generation.

"One important concern was the fact that more than 50 percent of girls and more than 90 per cent of boys feel very hard [difficult] to tell about situations of violence; they do not tell anybody, they keep it to themselves and the trauma just keeps growing. And this is one of the reasons when in so many places we see the intergenerational transmission of violence," said Santos Pais.

The survey was based on interviews of 2,500 Cambodians from 13 to 24-years-old. Officials say it marked a major step in surveying the extent of abuse of children and young people.

In Asia, Santos Pais also met with the Lao Government, which is carrying out a national action plan on violence against women and children. The plan, she says, will hopefully be backed by a new law, now before the national assembly, which could improve protections for protect children.

The United States and Europe have conducted studies of violence against children and taken legislative measures to punish those responsible and help the victims deal with the trauma.

Santos Pais says countries in the Asia Pacific region are now making gains in addressing those issues.

"So the tip of the iceberg we know about is very frightening and it is not different from region to region. But in this particular region we are encouraged by a number of factors - most countries have been giving to this topic a very high attention in policies that are being put in place," she said.

A report by the independent non-profit Copenhagen Consensus Center put the total global cost of child abuse, largely based on abuse at home, at $3.6 trillion, with the highest cost burdens in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The costs are linked to treatment, interventions by social workers, recovery and reintegration of traumatized children, or as victims of sexual violence, and medical treatments.

But Santos Pais says the global surveys of abuse of children within the family and in schools, point to a "long way to go" into investigating the situation in institutions ostensibly for the care and protection of children and those associated with the justice system.