Violence — what you can do about it?
Violence is a choice, and it is preventable
There are nine distinct forms of violence and abuse:
- Physical violence;
- Sexual violence;
- Emotional violence;
- Psychological violence;
- Spiritual violence;
- Cultural violence;
- Verbal abuse;
- Financial abuse; and,
UNICEF’s understanding of violence derives from Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which defines the scope as “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
Here’s how it affects children:
Violence harms children’s physical, emotional and social development
Infants and small children who are exposed to violence experience so much added emotional stress that it can harm the development of their brains and impair cognitive and sensory growth. Behaviour changes can include excessive irritability, sleep problems, emotional distress, fear of being alone, immature behaviour, and problems with toilet training and language development. At an early age, a child’s brain is becoming ‘hard-wired’ for later physical and emotional functioning. Exposure to domestic violence threatens that development.
As they grow, children who are exposed to violence may continue to show signs of problems. Primary-school-age children may have more trouble with school work, and show poor concentration and focus. They tend not to do as well in school.
Personality and behavioural problems among children exposed to violence in the home can take the forms of psychosomatic illnesses, depression, suicidal tendencies, and bed-wetting. Later in life, these children are at greater risk for substance abuse, juvenile pregnancy and criminal behaviour than those raised in homes without violence.
Some studies suggest social development is also damaged. Some children lose the ability to feel empathy for others. Others feel socially isolated, unable to make friends as easily due to social discomfort or confusion over what is acceptable. Many studies have noted that children from violent homes exhibit signs of more aggressive behaviour, such as bullying, and are up to three times more likely to be involved in fighting.
There is a strong likelihood that this will become a continuing cycle of violence for the next generation.
The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence. Children who grow up with violence in the home learn early and powerful lessons about the use of violence in interpersonal relationships to dominate others, and might even be encouraged in doing so. Not all children fall into the trap of becoming victims or abusers. Many adults who grew up with violence in the home are actively opposed to violence of all kinds.
Violence is not inevitable. It is possible to break the cycle of violence against children, and it is our moral and human rights imperative to act now. We can prevent violence and we can start today.
Here’s how — 6 ways to prevent and respond to violence against children
1. Supporting parents, caregivers and families
Educating families, caregivers and parents on their child’s early development increases the likelihood that they will use positive disciplining methods. This reduces the risk of violence within the home.
2. Helping children and adolescents manage risks and challenges
Giving children and adolescents the skills to cope and manage risks and challenges without the use of violence and to seek appropriate support when violence does occur is crucial for reducing violence in schools and communities.
3. Changing attitudes and social norms that encourage violence and discrimination
Changing the attitudes and social norms that hide violence in plain sight is the surest way to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.
4. Promoting and providing support services for children
Encouraging children to seek quality professional support and report incidents of violence helps them to better cope with and resolve experiences of violence.
5. Implementing laws and policies that protect children
Implementing and enforcing laws and policies that protect children sends a strong message to society that violence is unacceptable and will be punished.
6. Carrying out data collection and research
Knowing about violence — where it occurs, in what forms, and which age groups and communities of children are most affected — is essential to planning and designing intervention strategies, and setting numerical and time-bound targets to monitor progress and end violence.
Three questions about violence against children