NEW YORK - Six in ten children under five years old worldwide regularly endure psychological aggression or physical punishment at home, according to new UNICEF estimates. Of these nearly 400 million under-fives, 330 million are punished by physical means.

“When children are subjected to physical or verbal abuse at home, or when they are deprived of social and emotional care from their loved ones, it can undermine their sense of self-worth and development,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

The UNICEF data was released on Tuesday on the first-ever International Day of Play (IDOP). It reveals many young children are deprived of play, stimulation, and interaction with their parents and caregivers. The UN children’s agency is calling on governments to strengthen legal frameworks and provide greater investments in evidence-based parenting programmes and play spaces for children.

Violent discipline at home

While more and more countries are prohibiting physical punishment against children at home, around half a billion under-fives are still left without adequate legal protection. Harmful social norms underscore violent child rearing practices, according to UNICEF. Slightly more than one in four mothers and primary caregivers expressed that physical punishment is necessary to raise children.

The data found that approximately four in ten children aged two to four years do not get enough stimulation at home, indicating emotional neglect that may lead to detachment, insecurity, and behavioral issues in adulthood. Meanwhile, one in ten misses out on activities with their caregivers that are critical to development, such as reading, storytelling, singing, and drawing.

The findings also show many children do not play with their caregivers and have no toys at home.

First International Day of Play

The first International Day of Play highlights the crucial role of play on human development across cognitive, social, emotional, and physical growth.

“Nurturing and playful parenting can bring joy and also help children feel safe, learn, build skills, and navigate the world around them,” Ms. Russell said.

The IDOP also stresses the persisting obstacles to children’s ability to play, such as disabilities, gender discrimination, conflict, and learning poverty.

UNICEF is urging governments to do more to tackle these challenges, calling for better legal and policy frameworks to end all forms of violence against children in the home. It also is insisting on an expansion of evidence-based parenting programmes and expanded access to learning and play spaces for children.

“On the first International Day of Play, we must unite and recommit to ending violence against children and promoting positive, nurturing, and playful caregiving,” Ms. Russell announced.