This week in Fiji, at the Pacific Regional Workshop on Child Protection for the Social Welfare Sector, participants from government ministries across 12 Pacific island countries have joined together for the first time to develop a framework to improve child protection services in the region.

Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Pacific Representative, said, “Children have the right to be safe and protected, and to grow up free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Violence against children affects their brain development with consequences that impact the child and continue into adulthood and the next generation.”

UNICEF Pacific is supporting 40 officials from Ministries responsible for social welfare to attend the workshop and develop a regional framework and network to strengthen child protection systems in the Pacific.

During the workshop, participants will share a common understanding of child protection issues and how to address these; and share experiences, lessons and best practices from the Pacific and other countries. They will also identify approaches to child protection best suited to the Pacific region.

“Every child has the right to grow up in a safe and protected environment. Strengthening child protection services and systems across the Pacific region through legal frameworks, policies, and working with communities, is vital to reach those children most at risk,” said Yett.

In the Pacific islands, about four in every five children between two to 14 years experiences some form of violent discipline. Violence at school is also high with about one in every two students between 13 to 15 years reporting being bullied, involved in physical fights, or experiencing severe injuries as a result of school violence.

Violence against children affects their brain development and consequently their physical, psychological, social, emotional and cognitive development, which has impacts on these children throughout their lives.

In addition to the impact on the child, violence against children also creates a high cost to society through the loss of human capital and pressure placed on health, social, justice and security services.

In the Pacific, child marriage rates are also a concern, with one in every five girls marrying before the age of 18. Other protection issues affecting children include family separation, customary adoption, child labour and sexual exploitation.

The workshop held this week will support social welfare officials to strengthen their country’s child protection systems, including laws, policies, regulations and services needed across all sectors. This will support the prevention and responses needed to protect children at risk, which involves the government, civil society organisations, communities and families.