Nearly 400 million young children worldwide regularly experience violent discipline at home – UNICEF

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Nearly 400 million young children worldwide regularly experience violent discipline at home – UNICEF

New data also reveal many young children are deprived of play, stimulation, and interaction with their parents and caregivers

NEW YORK, 11 June 2024 — Nearly 400 million children under 5 — or 6 in 10 children within that age group globally — regularly endure psychological aggression or physical punishment at home, according to new UNICEF estimates. Of them, around 330 million are punished by physical means.

The findings also emphasize the crucial role of play in children’s development and the mental health of children, parents, and caregivers in response to data that highlights the prevalence of inadequate caregiving, including stimulation and interaction at home.

“When children are subjected to physical or verbal abuse at home, or when they are deprived of social and emotional care from their loved ones, it can undermine their sense of self-worth and development,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Nurturing and playful parenting can bring joy and also help children feel safe, learn, build skills, and navigate the world around them.”

More and more countries are prohibiting physical punishment against children in the home. Over half of the 66 countries that have banned the practice have enacted legislation within the past 15 years, but this still leaves around half a billion children under the age of 5 without adequate legal protection.

Globally, harmful social norms that underpin violent childrearing methods persist, with slightly more than 1 in 4 mothers and primary caregivers indicating that physical punishment is necessary to raise and educate children properly, according to the findings.

The data – released on the first-ever International Day of Play – also underscore disparities in caregiving practices and access to play opportunities. For example, new estimates show that approximately 4 in 10 children aged 2-4 years do not get enough responsive interaction or stimulation at home, meaning they may experience emotional neglect and a sense of detachment, insecurity, and behavioural issues that can persist into adulthood. Meanwhile, 1 in 10 misses out on activities with their caregivers that are critical to promoting cognitive, social, and emotional development, like reading, storytelling, singing, and drawing.

The data also show that around 1 in 5 children aged 2-4 years do not play with their caregivers at home, while roughly 1 in 8 under age 5 do not have toys or playthings at home.

Studies show that evidence-based parenting programmes improve caregiving, reduce family violence and maltreatment, and enhance the mental health of children and parents. These programmes include coaching on positive approaches, building strong parent-child relationships, and supporting play, nonviolent discipline, and communication.

To ensure every child grows up feeling safe and loved, UNICEF calls on governments to strengthen efforts and investment in:

 

  • Protection: Strengthening legal and policy frameworks that prohibit and end all forms of violence against children in the home;
  • Parenting support: Scaling up evidence-based parenting programmes that promote positive, playful approaches, and prevent family violence;
  • Playful learning: Expanding access to learning and play spaces for children, including preschools, schools, and playgrounds.

“On the first International Day of Play, we must unite and recommit to ending violence against children and promoting positive, nurturing, and playful caregiving,” added Russell.

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Notes to editors:

Download photos here.

Explore the data here and here.

Visit UNICEF’s parenting hub here.

On 11 June 2024, UNICEF and partners will mark the first-ever International Day of Play (IDOP) at the UN Headquarters in New York, featuring a high-level forum, a play installation and experience, and a pre-k classroom learning through play. IDOP underscores the crucial role of play in human development across cognitive, social, emotional, and physical growth, while spotlighting barriers to play like harmful practices, disabilities, gender discrimination, conflict, and learning poverty.

The new estimates of violent discipline are based on a subset of 100 countries with internationally comparable data between 2010 and 2023 covering 52 per cent of the global population of children under 5. The estimates of attitudes towards corporal punishment are based on a subset of 93 countries with internationally comparable data between 2008 and 2023 covering around 50 per cent of the global female population aged 15 to 49 years. The estimates of caregiving and availability of toys/playthings are based on a subset of 85 countries with internationally comparable data between 2010 and 2023 as well as national studies covering 57 per cent of the global population of children aged 2-4 years and 56 per cent of the global population of children under 5, respectively.    

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Notes to editors: 

For further information, please contact [email protected]

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work for children. We also promote and protect children’s rights in the UK and internationally. We are a UK charity, entirely funded by supporters.

​United Kingdom Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), Registered Charity No. 1072612 (England & Wales), SC043677 (Scotland).

​For more information visit unicef.org.uk. Follow UNICEF UK on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.