Human rights approach

This manual begins from the position that sexual violence against children is a severe violation of human rights. One of its purposes is therefore to make clear how human rights principles protect and address the rights of child survivors of sexual violence and abuse, and the consequences of violating rights both for child survivors and society as a whole.

Numerous rights are relevant to sexual violence against children, most obviously the right to life and bodily integrity, the prohibition of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, and the convention on the rights of the child.

These principles are deeply entrenched in international law. Sexual violence threatens life and personal integrity and can cause serious harm to individuals who are abused. States are required to follow up allegations or information about violations of fundamental rights, in particular the right not to be tortured or subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. This means that States must investigate allegations and provide protection and remedy if violations have taken place.

Human rights laws and standards assert that states and other governmental actors have a duty to respect every person’s dignity and physical and mental integrity. They therefore provide a foundation of principle for work with children who have been exposed to sexual and other forms of abuse.

In sum, human rights standards can ground and inspire our work with children who have been abused; and provide tools for action. We can explain to children, so that they can see for themselves, that the violence they have experienced violates important rules and principles that are legally recognised internationally and generate legal obligations and duties for public authorities. We can further explain that children who have experienced sexual abuse or violence are entitled to help and support because it is the responsibility of states and other authorities to provide help, treatment and protection to victims of such crimes, and eventually to prosecute those responsible for them. In addition, children are entitled to specific forms of protection that consider their education, care and development as well as their physical and psychological safety.

Guidelines for mental health and psychosocial interventions in humanitarian settings are also relevant when helping children who have experienced sexual abuse or violence. Relevant guidelines describe the human rights-based approach, the Do No Harm principle, and good practices in relation to co-ordination and integrated services. In general, it is good to avoid standalone interventions that focus on a single group or topic. Ideally, psychological interventions to support child survivors of sexual violence and abuse should be integrated with physical health care, legal support, financial support and other relevant services.

The following ethical and human rights principles should guide work with children:
• Do no harm.
• The best interest of the child.
• The evolving capacities of the child.
• Non-discrimination.
• Respect.
• Integrity.
• Participation.
When applying these principles, the concept of nurturing care can help you to consider and take into account a child’s age and maturity, as well as relevant values, norms and resources.