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The effects of violence against women on early childhood

As violence strikes at the rights of women in every phase of their lives, infants and young children are twice exposed. First is through direct attacks: In some regions of the world, especially in South Asia, violence shows itself in systematic female foeticide and female infanticide. In other regions, the violence is less obvious in its manifestation but not in its effects: Less nutritious food, health care and schooling mean a quiet death for unknown numbers of young children, with young girls and children with disabilities especially at risk.

The second exposure for infants and young children is through their mothers. Women's powerlessness, caused by both inequality and abuse, threatens babies and young children. Each year, almost 8 million stillbirths and early neonatal deaths occur due to women's poor health and nutrition during pregnancy, inadequate care during delivery and lack of care for the newborn. A Nicaraguan study found that children of women who were sexually or physically abused by their partners were 6 times more likely than other children to die before the age of five. The children of abused women were more likely to be malnourished and less likely to be immunized or to receive oral rehydration therapy for diarrhoea.

Domestic violence

Violence that occurs in the home is a health, legal, economic, educational, developmental and, above all, a human rights issue. It cuts across boundaries of culture, class, education, income, ethnicity and age. Relatively hidden and ignored, it is the most prevalent form of violence against women and girls. In the United States alone, estimates are that anywhere from 2 million to 4 million women are violently attacked by their husbands each year.

The cycle of violence can only be broken through early intervention. Changing the power dynamics between men and women bodes especially well for children. In Tanzania, men are included in early childhood care programmes. This makes good sense. Addressing family and community attitudes and behaviour towards women may rescue girls from a lifetime of beatings and discrimination and may spare boys from perpetuating the role of batterer that they learn from their fathers and uncles.