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Children In The Pacific Face Increasing Levels Of Violence

Children are facing increasing levels of physical, sexual, emotional and online violence at home, school and their communities in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Tonga, according to new research from Save the Children.

Released today, Save the Children’s ' Pacific Regional Child Protection Situational Analysis’ shows child protection risks have increased in the Pacific over the past five years due to COVID-19, increased migration, climate change, and digital connectivity. Persistent social norms and power dynamics that accept high levels of violence within homes, schools and communities threaten children’s rights to live free from harm, abuse and neglect across the region.

Almost 200 children and adolescents, alongside 300 caregivers and 110 child protection staff across the five countries participated in the research, which consisted of group discussions, surveys, and child-led research, alongside a comprehensive literature review.

Children shared their perceptions of violence in their homes, schools, community, and online, revealing that violence is an all-too-common experience for the majority of children in the five Pacific countries studied, and that this violence has increased in the past five years since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Children and caregivers alike shared the often "taboo" subject of violence against children, particularly sexual violence, with one child in Papua New Guinea saying they "feel scared to [report] because our mother and father will belt us" while another in Solomon Islands spoke about the difference between violence against girls and boys: "Girls might be more worried about being raped, and then boys might be more worried about being bullied or things like that."

Forms of violence experienced by children include family violence, physical violence, neglect, sexual violence, intimate partner violence at home, while at school or on the way to school, children may experience corporal and humiliating punishment, bullying, or insults. Child marriage, child labour, child trafficking, and sexual abuse can take place in the wider communities, while online, digital harm such as cyber bullying and exposure to indecent material and pornography is increasing.

One female caregiver interviewed in Solomon Islands said "their bride price could help finance school fees for the younger ones or to start up money generating income to support families" while a child protection officer said "we’ve had cases of rape happening against girls because they had to travel distances to collect water. They experience drought so this is common practice that we send our girls out to fetch water, [making] them more vulnerable to violence".

Key research findings include:

- Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu have the highest rates of violence against children across 40 low and middle-income countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with more than 80% of children experiencing violent discipline by their caregivers.

- In Fiji, children, both girls and boys, are also subjected to high rates of violent discipline at home, with child protection professionals saying violence is increasing, while in Papua New Guinea, violence against children in the home was raised consistently by participants as accepted and widely practiced, particularly in rural settings.

- More than 80% of the 110 child protection professionals surveyed in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Fiji said emotional, physical and sexual violence had increased or significantly increased in their country.

- Caregivers in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu were most concerned about online violence against children. The research found there are limited data on online violence with respect to children’s safety in all five countries.

- Children identified serious concerns around online safety, including encountering inappropriate content, and cyberbullying leading to emotional harm and even suicide.

Save the Children New Zealand Advocacy and Research Director Jacqui Southey said while the report shows progress has been made in legislative and policy reform to improve child protection, implementation is challenging, due to under-resourcing, shortages in the number and quality of skilled social workers across child protection services, and deeply entrenched social norms and beliefs that reinforce harmful behaviours and power imbalances.

"The research shows the deeply entrenched and pervasive nature of violence against children across many Pacific countries. But it also points to ways in which we can do better for children."

Ms Southey said the research offered solutions to address violence against children and pointed to the need to increase efforts at all levels of the child protection system. This includes ensuring children’s voices are heard.

"As integral voices in the report highlighting their perception of violence, children must play a pivotal role in shaping the solutions that bring about lasting change to realise their rights to a life free from harm, abuse and neglect."

Save the Children is calling for governments across the region to continue to show leadership in ending violence against children by urgently prioritising relevant legislative and policy reform, such as raising the age of marriage in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands; increasing long-term financing in the child protection system; and stewarding formal and community-based prevention and response programmes and services. Examples include parenting programmes, digital literacy, child-centred support services, and community led campaigns to challenge and change harmful social norms that reinforce violence.

The child rights organisation is also calling on partner governments, such as New Zealand and Australia, civil society organisations and donors to provide long-term support and funding for locally-led initiatives that provide solutions at all levels to eliminate violence against children.

Supported by Aotearoa New Zealand’s International Development Cooperation Programme - Ngā Hoe Tuputupu-mai-tawhiti - the research was designed by the team at Nossal Institute for Global Health, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne and Macquarie University, with input from in-country researchers and Save the Children staff.

Researchers in each country independently conducted primary data collection in 2023, including research discussions with younger children led by adolescent facilitators in Fiji and Solomon Islands. Data was analysed by the Nossal Institute team, with input from the in-country researchers.


Save the Children has been working in the Pacific region for more than 50 years and has offices and programmes in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Tonga. We work with governments, local partners and communities to deliver child protection, healthcare, education, disaster risk reduction and climate resilience programmes. We respond to emergencies across the region and help communities prepare for the next emergency by building the capacity of local communities to respond first, and ensuring our responses support recovery.

The Pacific Regional Child Protection Situational Analysis presents data from a literature review (comprising of academic and wider research, including reports from the UN and NGOs working in the Pacific), as well as primary research. The literature review informed the development of methods for primary data collection. These included online surveys, interviews with child protection stakeholders, focus group discussions with caregivers and children, and child led research. Refer to research methodology for more information.

The research design varied between countries based on complementary research projects taking place at the same time. Ethics approval was obtained from Save the Children’s Ethics Committee in the United States and the Solomon Islands Health Research and Ethics Review Board. Data from the literature review and the different primary sources were triangulated to present country reports.

Across five Pacific countries:

- 50 child protection stakeholders were interviewed.

- 60 child protection stakeholders responded to online surveys.

- 150 caregivers participated in focus group discussions.

- 150 caregivers responded to online surveys.

- 194 children were involved in the study - 153 children aged 8-16 participated in focus group discussions (94 in child-led research/ focus group discussions in Fiji and the Solomon Islands and 59 in adult-led focus group discussions in PNG and Tonga) plus 41 children responded to online surveys.

The research includes children’s voices, with their perceptions of violence in their home, school, community, and online a major contribution to the analysis, along with child protection experts, caregivers and adolescents.

The research strongly relies on local informants from the five respective countries, including child protection professionals, parents and caregivers and children. One component of this research was led by adolescent facilitators, who in Fiji and Solomon Islands have conducted research with younger children.

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