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Violence against women takes a toll on children

International Women’s Day
8 March 2009

This International Women’s Day, UNICEF looks at how children are affected when they witness violence against their mothers, sisters, aunts or caregivers.

© United Nations

KUALA LUMPUR, 5 March 2009 – Behind the closed door of a family home, a woman is being beaten while her children hide in the bedroom, unable to help or stop listening.

According to the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children 2006, up to 275 million children worldwide are estimated to witness domestic violence every year, proving that some of the biggest victims of domestic violence are the smallest and most vulnerable.

“Every child has the right to be protected from all forms of violence, including violence perpetrated against their loved ones. Children need to grow up in an environment that is safe and secure, where they learn that domestic violence is wrong.”

Youssouf Oomar

Even when they are not directly being abused, children suffer greatly when they are exposed to violence in their homes, particularly when perpetrated between or against their parents.

International Women's Day, celebrated this year under the theme, ‘Women and Men: United to End Violence against Women’, is an opportunity to throw open these closed doors and understand the impact of domestic violence on children.

Worldwide, at least one out of every three women is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. In Malaysia, 485 cases of violence against women were reported to the Department of Social Welfare in 2006.

“Women are the primary caregivers for children and thus ultimately shape children’s lives. The well-being of women and children is inseparable,” said UNICEF Representative to Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei Mr Youssouf Oomar.

A woman who is being abused in her home does not only suffer physically and emotionally, but is also forced to endure subordinate positions and economic insecurity in her household. With less autonomy and control within the family, she is unable to make important decisions for her children’s health, nutrition, education and well-being.

The World Report from the Secretary-General’s Study shows that children who witness violence between their parents, or between their mother and partner, can be psychologically and emotionally damaged.

Their well-being, personal development and social interactions in childhood and in adulthood can be severely affected, leading to behavioural disturbances such as substance abuse, juvenile pregnancy and criminal behaviour later in life.

Domestic abuse also perpetuates a cycle of violence for the next generation. Children who grow up with violence in the home learn to use violence in interpersonal relationships to dominate others. For instance, boys who saw their mothers being abused are more likely to grow up and abuse their wives.

This cycle must be stopped so that children can have the routine and normalcy that they deserve in their childhood, and be given the right to develop to their fullest potential.

“Every child has the right to be protected from all forms of violence, including violence perpetrated against their loved ones. Children need to grow up in an environment that is safe and secure, where they learn that domestic violence is wrong,” said Mr Youssouf.

As 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments are reminded of the promise they made towards all children 20 years ago, and their obligations to protect children from violence, even if it means intervening in “private” spheres.

Mr Youssouf stressed the need to engage men and boys in the fight against domestic violence, by mobilising them to recognise the needs of children exposed to domestic violence, as well as encouraging them to change attitudes and traditions that condone abuse.

Beyond the lifelong consequences for children, violence against women has enormous social and economic costs, and poses a serious threat to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

“If the world is to protect the rights of children, then we must do more to prevent violence against women and promote gender equality,” stressed Mr Youssouf.
A world fit for children is also a world fit for women – one cannot exist without the other.



ABOUT International Women’s Day
International Women's Day has been observed since the early 1900's and has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. Women's organisations and governments around the world observe IWD every year by holding large-scale events that honour women's advancement, while diligently reminding people of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women's equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life. The United Nations is commemorating IWD on 8 March this year under the theme, ‘Women and Men: United to End Violence against Women’.

ABOUT UNICEF and gender equality
Gender equality and the well-being of children go hand in hand. When women are empowered to live full and productive lives, children prosper. Achieving Millennium Development Goal 3 – promoting gender equality and empowering women – will contribute to achieving all the other MDGs, from reducing poverty and hunger to saving children’s lives, improving maternal health, ensuring universal education, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing new and innovative partnerships for development.

In celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2009, UNICEF stands by its commitment to ensure that all children – girls and boys alike – have equal opportunity to develop their talents, by ensuring equal access to early childhood care, nutrition, social services and education. For more information, please visit  


Indra Kumari Nadchatram
(603) 2095 9157 • (+6) 013 366 3452

Shiao Eek, Tee
(603) 2095 9154 • (+6) 012 207 0138

Faradiza Zahri
(603) 2095 9154





International Women's Day 2009

UNite to end violence against women
Int'l Women’s Day '09
UN Sec-Gen’s Message
UNICEF ED’s Message
Campaign Brief
Campaign Ideas


Official Website

Ending Violence Against Women

Say No to Violence Against Children

Child Protection: Malaysia

Behind Closed Doors


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