A recent study in Cambodia found that violence against children is mainly carried out by adult family members of the victims. The study was part of a United Nations program on child violence. Researchers carried out the survey with the support of Cambodia's government.
The researchers found that emotional, sexual and physical abuse of children was widespread. The researchers say more than 50 percent of young people experienced some form of physical violence by age 18.
The survey found that 25 percent of children experienced emotional abuse, often by parents or a close relative. Five percent of those questioned reported being sexually abused as children.
Marta Santos Pais is the United Nations' special representative on violence against children. She says the findings show how children often are silent about abuse. She says this often leads to a cycle of violence, from one generation to the next.
"One important concern was the fact that more than 50 percent of girls and more than 90 percent of boys feel very hard [difficult] to tell about situations of violence; they don't tell to anybody, they keep it to themselves and the trauma just keeps growing. And this is one of the reasons why in so many places we see the intergenerational transmission of violence."
The researchers led interviews with 2500 Cambodians. The subjects were from 13 to 24 years old. Officials say the survey marks a major step in discovering the extent of abuse of children and young people.
Marta Santos Pais met with Cambodian officials and representatives of the government of Laos. That government has approved a national action plan on violence against women and children. Ms. Santos Pais says Lao lawmakers are currently considering a measure that could improve protections for children.
The United States and Europe have carried out studies of violence against children. They have also taken legislative action to punish abusers and to help the victims deal with the trauma.
The U.N. official says countries in the Asia-Pacific area are now also making gains in dealing with those issues.
"So the tip of the iceberg that we know about is very frightening, and it is not different from region to region. But in this particular region we are encouraged by a number of factors. Most countries have been giving to this topic a very high attention in policies that are being put in place."
A group called the Copenhagen Consensus Center recently reported on the cost of child abuse. The non-profit center said the problem costs the world about $3.6 trillion. It said the areas suffering the highest cost burdens are the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and African nations south of the Sahara Desert.
The costs are linked to treatment, interventions by social workers, recovery of traumatized children and medical treatments.
But Marta Santos Pais says the surveys of abuse of children within the family and in schools point to a "long way to go." She is calling for investigation of the situation in institutions responsible for the care and protection of children, and those linked to the justice system.
I'm Caty Weaver.