World's Children Echo Call for Making Child Protection a Global Priority

That famous old observation -- "Everybody talks about the weather but no one does anything about it" -- has reminded me of the ongoing discussions about protecting children from violence. For generations, children have been subjected to the worst forms of violence -- beatings and mutilations, forced marriage and sexual exploitation, dangerous labor and involuntary conscription into armed conflict, and much of it before they reach their teens.

But now, the issue is cresting, and the international community has begun to summon its collective will to move beyond words and take pointed and sustained action toward ensuring that children's safety and wellbeing are indelible priorities across all continents.

In just over a year from now, the sun will set on the Millennium Development Goals. These eight global objectives have served as the rallying point for progress on a number of fronts -- among them, lowering child mortality rates, reducing hunger, improving maternal health and increasing access to education. Although much work still remains to be done, the across-the-board progress that has been made to d ate is testament to what can be accomplished when clear-cut objectives and action plans are established and governments and nongovernmental organizations work effectively together.

The focus now turns to the next set of goals, the post-2015 agenda or what are being called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While many important issues are being considered, I believe that it is our moral imperative to see that protecting children against violence -- in all its horrific forms -- is included among the next set of priorities. To that end, the ChildFund Alliance, of which ChildFund International is a founding member, has created the Free From Violence campaign, a global advocacy effort designed to enlist support for including child protection as a formal goal among the SDGs.

We are not alone in this initiative. The Alliance recently helped to convene a meeting at the United Nations that was attended by some 30 different countries, all of which have joined us in making the case that the time has come to make protecting the world's children from violence a high-level priority in the decade ahead and beyond. At the meeting, Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, who in 1999 co-founded the World Childhood Foundation, spoke eloquently in support of this endeavor, as did representatives from nations as diverse as Paraguay, Ireland, Canada and Benin. I'm encouraged by the breadth of support that is building behind this effort.

The voices we have not heard are those of the children themselves. Recently, however, ChildFund Alliance asked young boys and girls around the world what priorities they would set as we contemplate new post-2015 targets. More than 2,300 children from 40 countries - across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe - were interviewed, and they overwhelmingly echoed the call for greater protection from violence. In 82 percent of the participating countries, these young people singled out violence against children as their top priority. More specifically, they called on adults to focus on putting an end to bullying, child labor, child marriage, child trafficking, corporal punishment, female genital mutilation and cutting, recruitment of children by armed forces or groups and violence in schools.

Protecting children from violence is the foundation on which so much of our work in disrupting the cycle of poverty takes place. Ensuring that children are healthy, safe and able to continue their educations is the seed from which prosperity will grow. But violence against children chokes these efforts, inhibiting our capacity to make tangible progress on a number of fronts. It also has economic consequences. A recent study compiled by the Overseas Development Institute found that physical, psychological and sexual violence against children has an economic cost that is equivalent to 8 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product. It's a staggering figure. Put another way, it is greater than the GDPs of Australia, Canada, India and Mexico ... combined.

Notwithstanding the financial implications, our moral obligation to protect children - to give them childhoods free from violence, to ensure that their schooling remains uninterrupted and to see that they spend their formative years simply being children -- transcends all other considerations.

And now we have heard from the children themselves. Their priority should be ours as well.