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Unicef: More than 1 in 4 children in institutions are sexually abused


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According to Unicef, more than 1 in 4 children living in child protection institutions are sexually abused while in social care.

Every child has the right to grow up in a supportive family environment. However, according to Unicef, globally, an estimated 2.7 million children live in institutional care – and the real number is likely much higher.

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As Unicef ​​argues, the immediate and long-term damage caused by family separation and inappropriate alternative care, particularly in institutions, is well documented. Institutions are often characterized by inherently harmful living arrangements.

Children may experience forced coexistence and fixed routines that are not adapted to their individual needs. They often lack the ability to make choices that are in their best interests.

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Furthermore, children in alternative care are regularly isolated from their families and local communities. Deprived of parental care, they can suffer physical, psychological, emotional and social damage – with consequences that last a lifetime. These children are also more likely to experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

According to Unicef, more than 1 in 4 children live in child protection institutions are sexually abused while they are in social care.

This is also the reason why in Greece with a recent law (L. 4837/2021) a clean criminal record became a condition for anyone working in a structure that takes care of children and at the same time a child protection officer was appointed within each structure – a reference person that is, for the timely notification of incidents of abuse to the competent authorities.

Experts, scientists, victims and social actors call for immediate priority to be given to the protection of children on the occasion of the World Day Against Child Abuse which is celebrated every year on November 19. Speaking to APE-MPE, representatives from the “Smile of the Child” and the “Eliza” Association emphasize once again that the key to dealing with the problem is to change the mentality and for the atrocities to come to light.

As he says to APE-MPE, director of “Eliza”, Vana Marketakis “we all have the impression that from the time of the pandemic until today, in our country, there has been a need to “reveal” the incidents, triggered by the brave revelation of Olympic champion Sofia Bekatorou, about the sexual abuse she was subjected to by a man her intimate environment (9 out of 10 incidents of sexual abuse happen to the child by a person in his close, family, intimate environment).

Our society seemed receptive to listening and ready to talk. “More and more incidents are coming to light, and there has been an increase in reports and complaints, according to helpline data.” However, he emphasizes that Greece must soon acquire a national recording system, which would capture the incidents revealing the forms of abuse and their rates.

“Until today, the only thing we rely on is the information provided by the Becan* survey of the Child Health Institute, according to which physical abuse occurred at rates of 47.38%, sexual abuse at a rate of 9.54%, psychological/verbal abuse in 70.02% and neglect in 26.41%.

However, scientists believe that the reported incidents, that is, those that are made public or reported to the prosecutor’s authorities and the police, are the tip of the iceberg, while the unknown incidents, those that remain known to a small victim-offender circle, are the real iceberg. According to elements of the latest action plan to deal with sexual violence against children, there was a reference to start a national registration system, which is expected”, Ms. Marketaki also notes.

Fotini Papadatou, who is a psychologist of “Smile of the Child” in Crete, makes the exact same observation while speaking to APE-MPE. “In Greece, there is no national and unified system for recording incidents of violence, nor are scientific investigations carried out systematically that can be generalized to the population. We can, however, convey to you the image of our own Organization, in which we record the phenomenon consistently, continuously, and on a 24-hour basis. Based on our Organization’s abuse statistics, only the 1st Semester of 2022:

We received 557 anonymous and named reports of abuse and neglect for 964 children. Of these 964 children, -only 14!- related to cases of sexual abuse. The most frequently reported form of abuse was child neglect at 50.10%. The least frequently reported form of abuse was sexual abuse – exploitation of children at 1.45%. There was an increase in named and anonymous reports by 27.17% and consequently, an increase in children in reports by 43.88%. It is worth noting, that in relation to the First Semester of 2021, no statistically significant difference is observed in the reported forms of abuse, which demonstrates that the sexual abuse – exploitation of children remains a secret.”

Testimonies in “Smile of a Child”

“We are called for all the aforementioned forms of violence, less often for sexual abuse. Many children experience domestic violence, school bullying, etc.” says Mrs. Papadatou to APE-MPE, adding:

“Today, after 27 years of Action, we feel particularly proud that we have managed to get the children themselves to talk to us and trust us. Almost half of the calls we receive are from children. For some children “The Child’s Smile” was not the only solution to save them from abuse. For some children it is the reason they are alive, with us.”

And it is even mentioned in specific cases, such as that of Ioanna who is currently 24 years old and grew up with two parents who abused her, endangering her life. Twice she had visited the nearest Police Station, reporting abuse and fear for her life, but both times she left without action. The third time he called “Smile” and asked for help.

“Ioanna and I went to the Police Department, we took care of everything we had to do and now after she was heard, she was removed from the family by prosecutor’s order. Next stop the Hospital where when the lights went out, she thought she was alone. Something that the psychologist overturned since she sat down with her. In the period that followed, Ioanna was lucky enough to find herself in a wonderful foster family, who provided her with security and everything she needed. Twelve years later, Ioanna, now a student, visited Hamogelo and told us: ”the day the psychologist was by my side, I realized that I will never be alone. The Smile was the only way to erase the mistake that nature made, to be the daughter of these people who abused me”.

What are the forms of child abuse?

The most horrific is sexual abuse but it doesn’t stop there. “When we refer to child abuse we include all forms of violence against children. Namely, mental/verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. All these forms of maltreatment/abuse lead to trauma regardless of the child’s developmental stage.

The earlier in a child’s life the abusive behavior occurs or begins to occur, eg in the rapid development stage of 0-5 years, the more profound and indelible the trauma. Child abuse in recent years also includes abuse that takes place in cyberspace, while according to a report by the Institute of Children’s Health, child abuse includes “Munchausen by proxy”, systemic abuse (by child protective services), the exposure to violence (domestic violence) – syndrome of the uninvolved bystander, child labor, the abuse and neglect of children in institutions, the sexual exploitation of minors (child trafficking)”, explains Mrs. Marketakis to APE-MPE.

How should one react to such incidents?

Most important of all, according to experts, incidents of child abuse should not remain hidden. “There is no other way. It is important for all of us, neighbors, professionals who work near children, friends, relatives, all adults who realize that something makes us suspicious, makes us think, to contact a Helpline, to discuss our thoughts and of course, since the incident “tortures” us, let’s report it to the Prosecutor’s Office.

It is absolutely certain that it is better to report an incident of suspected abuse and be wrong than to look the other way and let a child be abused. We should know that we can make our report anonymously if we do not want to reveal ourselves. It is comforting to know that we are reporting suspicion rather than certainty. This is taken over by others”, notes the director of the “Eliza” Association.

The recognized as National SOS Hotline 1056 it operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is available to every child and adult.

“Children, parents, teachers, neighbors, ordinary citizens who want to help a child who is suffering or at risk can call us 24 hours a day, anonymously and free of charge. In addition, the Chat 1056 app is a new, child- and youth-friendly way of communicating so that they can feel safe communicating with us via text messages. No child should keep a secret that makes them suffer, hurt, ashamed, unable to sleep at night. The National Telephone Line for children SOS 1056 is by your side. We are here for all children, but also their parents, for everything that happens to them, for everything that concerns them, so that together we can find a solution to their problem”, says Mrs. Papadatou from “Smile of the Child” .

About a year ago, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a five-year National Action Plan for the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation at a special event of the Parliament for the European day for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.

Mr. Mitsotakis spoke of a national priority and emphasized that its basic condition is zero tolerance for sexual violence against children. The National Action Plan for the Protection of Children from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation 2022-2027 was put under consultation a few weeks ago and as Elena Rapti, Member of Parliament of New Democracy and head of the National Action Plan in APE- EIA, “it is a holistic intervention in the existing framework of structures and operations to prevent the phenomenon, promote its disclosure when it occurs, quickly and effectively prosecute the perpetrators and provide protection and support to the victims”.

In other words, it is “a collective project of 12 ministries under the coordination of the Presidency of the Government. A multifaceted plan with 11 horizontal policies and 80 individual actions. 75% of the actions have already been included in the annual action plans of the ministries and several of them are already being implemented”.


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I have worked as a journalist for over 10 years, and my work has been featured on many different news websites. I am also an author, and my work has been published in several books. I specialize in opinion writing, and I often write about current events and controversial topics. I am a very well-rounded writer, and I have a lot of experience in different areas of journalism. I am a very hard worker, and I am always willing to put in the extra effort to get the job done.

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