If hitting your child is so effective, why do you have to keep doing it?
Op Ed by Alexandra Yuster, UNICEF Representative in Moldova
Several years ago, in the UK, I saw a powerful awareness campaign. Billboards around the country asked a provocative question: If hitting your child is so effective, why do you have to keep doing it? Those words stayed with me, as a valuable reminder of the thought we must put into the discipline methods we choose to educate our children.
When I came to Moldova as UNICEF Representative that campaign message returned to my mind. Why? Because I've seen some staggering statistics showing that in Moldova 16% of babies are beaten by their parents before the age of 1 year, and every 4th child admitted being hit by his parents. And I recalled another harsh reality: violence is universal and affects all kinds of families – regardless of wealth. Violence is found in all countries – from the richest to the poorest. But the extent and its impact depends on attitudes and on how societies choose to deal with the phenomenon.
Recently public opinion in Moldova was shaken by the tragic case of a 5 year old girl from Leova who died in hospital after being severely beaten within her own home.
Cases of abuse and neglect of children happen every day here in Moldova. They happen despite that fact that adults in Moldova take seriously their responsibility to protect children. They happen despite the fact that both international and Moldovan law condemn and sanction violence in the family, including any form of physical violence against children. They happen even though exactly 20 years ago this month Moldova ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and committed to protect all children from violence.
It’s time to ask ourselves how we might change this. And a first step is to look back at the Child Rights Convention, and remind ourselves that to fulfil its promise, every individual most play a role. Family members, neighbours, friends, teachers, social assistants, police, and health workers – all of us must be willing to step in and speak up when we believe a child is in danger or being harmed.
It is time to break the silence. To speak and to report a case of violence is not an act of courage, it is an act of civic responsibility. True system change will happen only when we will understand that the problem of our neighbour is actually our problem. If you witness or believe that violence is occurring in the family of your relative, friend or neighbour it is your duty to get involved - to tell a social assistant, police officer or another person with responsibility for child and family protection to make sure they assist the family quickly and effectively. And if they did not respond, ask them to account for it.
It is true that social services are not yet developed enough - often professionals do not have the time and resources to address all social problems. To work more effectively, they need to work together, and harness the support and involvement of the community, parents associations, NGOs, church and businesses. But the fact remains that violence and abuse will often be hidden. While we hope more and more professionals will learn how to detect and respond appropriately when a child is at risk, the obligation to report, to break the silence and stop the pain start with every one of us; the adults who have the responsibility to protect them.
And of course parents and caregivers also need information and support, so that they have the tools to break the cycle of violence that unfortunately affects many families.
Parenting is an important and challenging job, and both fathers and mothers need support if they are to avoid using violence when they themselves experience to growing up. With sayings like "a beating is from heaven" still heard in Moldova, there is still much to overcome.
Parents need to know that there is available information and resources for them. They can find practical advice and additional information from local authorities, school, NGOs and information available in the internet.
At UNICEF we know that many professionals, Ministries, church leaders, NGOs and others are determined to increase support to parents and improve early detection and appropriate services for children and families in crisis. Together with the conscious efforts of every one who has ever cared about a child to speak up, to report, or to stop themselves before striking a child in anger, we just might avert the next tragedy.