There is a silent epidemic in my country. Where I live in the Solomon Islands, every single day children - and especially girls - are facing violence.

It goes "unseen" because it happens behind closed doors in the family home.
Now new research shows this epidemic is regional - a staggering 70 per cent, or four million children experience violent discipline at home in the Pacific and Timor-Leste, according to the Unseen Unsafe report from Plan International Australia, Save the Children, World Vision, and ChildFund.

Yet, not nearly enough is being done to address this crisis. The report found a severe lack of funding and policy measures, with just 0.1 per cent of all Australian foreign aid to the region being directed to programs specifically addressing violence against children. And Australia is the biggest donor to our region.

We all need to do better, for the sake of every child and their future.

This crisis may be happening behind closed doors but I see what it does to people in my country. Like my friend who dropped out of school after her guardian refused to pay the school fees if she didn't do house chores. Now she just stays home and does house duties.

The world needs to listen to the experiences of children and young people, especially girls.

We can tell you why in the Solomon Islands - like it is in countries around the world - girls are more at-risk of violence, simply because of our gender.

We can tell you how the problem is exacerbated by deeply entrenched and harmful notions of gender roles. If girls don't "play their role", and behave as they are expected to, it can lead to violence.

We can tell you how violence can not only impact a child's mental health and physical safety, but how it can also risk their education, and all the opportunities that come with it - to make friends, learn and thrive.

Take a typical day in the life of a girl in my country. She rises early to do chores before the long walk to school. And at the end of all her classes, she comes home to do more chores before starting on her homework - Plan International Australia's Stronger Together research found girls in the Solomon Islands spend an average of 18 hours doing housework each week. This is seven times the global average of 2.5 hours.

Of course, some girls don't get the chance to go to school because boys' education is seen as a higher priority. This means girls are often the first to be removed from school when families struggle to afford the fees. Once out of school a girl is expected to take care of the house and family.

For any girl, breaking expectations and refusing chores can lead to violence.
Among those most vulnerable to abuse and neglect are the many girls from rural provinces who are sent to live with relatives in our capital Honiara, because they are seen as "less important" than biological children.

We need to do better. Every child in the Solomon Islands has the right live free from violence and fear, as do all children around the world.

It breaks my heart when I see my friends and other girls suffering and missing out on opportunities like school. They should be able to get educated, so they can have a good future.

Of course, violence against children is a global problem. And we all have a role to play to help end it. This includes boys and fathers, as well as mothers, communities and governments around the world.

We need to get rid of the harmful gender stereotypes that exist worldwide, and make us think that girls should behave in certain ways, and do "their duties". Girls deserve equal treatment, and equal opportunities to grow up to live the life they want.

As the largest donor to the Pacific, Australia also has a big role to play to end violence against children in our region.

The Australian government should work with its Pacific neighbours and put children at the heart of its development programs - because, after all, children are the future.


The article is written by Margaret, a Plan International Youth Champion who lives in the Solomon Islands.