Advocacy statements

Violence against children and harmful traditional practices

  • Date / 2020
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights

International Humanist and Ethical Union

44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (30th June – 20th July 2020)

Interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children

We thank the Special Representative for her insightful report.[1] We commend her special focus on research showing how exposure to violence at a young age can impact a child’s mental health.

We would like to highlight that some of the most extreme acts of violence against children seen today share a common feature. They are facilitated by harmful traditional beliefs and practices. This includes FGM and child marriage, which are driven by extreme and patriarchal ideas around female sexuality.[2] This also includes the less-discussed practice of witchcraft-related abuse. Witchcraft accusations grounded in local superstition are a significant cause of social exclusion, torture and death for thousands of children, particularly those with albinism or who have disabilities.[3]The Convention on the Rights of the Child calls on State parties to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.[4] Tackling the widespread cultural acceptance of these practices should therefore be a top priority in plans towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The more we learn about the life-long impact of violence in childhood, the more daunting the challenges may appear. However, information is powerful, and understanding the full complexity of these challenges can help us to overcome them. In light of this, we support calls for gathering more data on witchcraft accusations,[5] and we believe greater engagement with local ‘gatekeepers’ of culture, such as community and spiritual leaders, is key to improving our understanding of and effectively breaking the cycle of violence inflicted on children by harmful traditions.


[1] A/HRC/43/39

[2] https://www.actionaid.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/violence-against-women-and-girls/child-marriage

[3] http://www.whrin.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2017-UNREPORT-final.pdf

[4] Article 24(3), Convention on the Rights of the Child

[5] https://violenceagainstchildren.un.org/sites/violenceagainstchildren.un.org/files/keeping_the_promise.pdf

Suggested academic reference

'Violence against children and harmful traditional practices', Humanists International

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