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July 2000Vol. 1, No. 5Report Reveals Domestic Violence as a Global Epidemic

Domestic violence has reached global epidemic proportions, according to findings in a new UNICEF report, Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls.

The study, conducted by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (IRC) in Florence, Italy, states that domestic violence cuts across cultures, class, education, incomes, ethnicity, and age in every country. In some countries, up to half of all women and girls have experienced physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner or family member. An estimated 60 million women are missing from population statistics globally-killed by their own families deliberately or through neglect, simply because they are female.

In investigating the magnitude of the problem, researchers noted that the data were believed to be both conservative, and unreliable since domestic violence is often under-reported. The report highlights the links between domestic violence and the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as the increasing availability of weapons. The following types of violence are profiled:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse and rape in intimate relationships
  • Psychological and emotional abuse
  • Femicide--murder of women by their batterers
  • Sexual abuse of children and adolescents
  • Forced prostitution
  • Sex-selective abortions, female infanticide, and differential access to food and medical care
  • Traditional and cultural practices affecting the health and lives of women

Inter-related social and cultural factors cause domestic violence. Among them are:

  • Socio-economic forces
  • The family institution with unequal power relations between men and women
  • Fear of and control over female sexuality
  • Belief in the inherent superiority of males
  • Legislation and cultural sanctions that have traditionally denied women and children an independent legal and social status.

Besides denying fundamental human rights, the report states that domestic violence impacts the physical and emotional health of women and children, threatens their financial security, and undermines self-esteem and the prospects of growing normally. The report also discusses various monetary and non-monetary, socio-economic costs of violence to make policy makers more aware of the importance and effectiveness of prevention.

According to UNICEF, 44 countries to date have adopted specific legislation on domestic violence. While some countries have begun to legislate against marital rape, including Mexico, Namibia, South Africa, and the United States, the report notes that sexual abuse and rape by an intimate partner is not considered a crime in most countries.

Besides legal reform, the report calls for integrated approaches and involvement from many sections of civil society, including community and religious leaders, professional associations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and academia. It also recommends boosting women's and girls' "security" through legal literacy, education, and employment opportunities. Efforts to train judicial and law enforcement agencies to be gender-sensitive, as well as setting up special women's police stations are cited as particularly successful ways to combat domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls is available online at: