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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One in 10 girls around the world - or about 120 million in total - have been forced to have intercourse or take part in other sexual acts, with rates higher in sub-Saharan Africa than other regions, according to the United Nations.
Drawing on data from 190 countries, a report by the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls under 18 are current or former husbands, boyfriends and partners.
The study, which sifted through the biggest ever compilation of data on violence against children, also found that one in five murder victims were children or adolescents under 20.
Homicide was the leading cause of death among males aged 10 to 19 in Panama, Venezuela, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia.
"Violence against children occurs every day, everywhere: the slaps of an upset parent to control an 'unruly' child, the sexual victimization of a teenager by a peer or a neighbor, the bullying of one child by another in the schoolyard, the emotional degradation of a child bride by her spouse," the report said.
"Too many children worldwide are affected by such violence, yet it is rarely acknowledged, in part because it is so commonplace. The repercussions are not inconsequential, with ripple effects throughout society as well as future generations," it added.
A higher proportion of girls, compared to the global average, reported being forced to have sex in 13 of the 18 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed: Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Zambia, Gabon, Tanzania, Liberia, Rwanda and Kenya.
UNICEF said boys experience sexual violence too, but to a far lesser extent than girls.
In Africa and the Middle East more than half the adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 believe a husband is justified in hitting his wife under certain circumstances. This rises to 80 percent or more in Afghanistan, Guinea, Jordan, Mali and East Timor.
The report also covered physical punishment, finding that almost 1 billion children aged between two and 14 are subjected to violent discipline by their parents or guardians on a regular basis.
It also showed that more than one in three students aged 13 to 15 experience routine bullying, while almost a third of students aged 11 to 15 in Europe and North America admitted bullying others.
Violence against children was occurring in places where children should be safe - in their communities, schools and homes, UNICEF said.
"Increasingly, it happens over the internet, and it's perpetrated by family members and teachers, neighbors and strangers and other children," the BBC quoted UNICEF's executive director Anthony Lake as saying.
Editing by Ros Russell; Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covers underreported humanitarian, human rights, corruption and climate change issues. Visit www.trust.org