By Liz Amandla
The 2017 Global Report is an initiative that makes a case for violence in childhood across the globe. The Report creates awareness of violence that occur in children as they grow as well as building preventive measures around this menace. It is a menace because violence of any kind inflicted on children deprives them of the fun childhood memoirs that they would have created had the violence not occurred. They become scarred, not for life though. Therefore it is important for everyone to be kept abreast of childhood violence and the preventive measures.
As earlier mentioned, this is a global initiative that brings together a conglomeration of groups from the different regions of the world; researchers, practitioners and policy makers from Asia, the Pacific and Latin American regions came together to address childhood violence prominent to their regions. Existing data is collected and examined; research is then commissioned to come up with the causes and consequences of childhood violence. This then results in the creation of preventive measures, all of which is shared to the general public.
Children have for a long time been subjected to violence in their homes, schools, communities and even in the streets for the street children. This violence is in the form of, inter alia, bullying, corporal punishment, murder or sexual violence. Laws, both international and municipal, were formulated in an effort to eliminating violence against children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is one of them. Kenya, among many other countries, has ratified this Convention by virtue of Article 2(5) and (6) of the Constitution 2010, as well as incorporating some of its provisions into the Children Act.
According to the Report, 1.7 billion children worldwide as at 2015 experienced some form of violence in a previous year. In addition, this Report highlights that violence in childhood affects both women and children. This is so as the violence that children face often begins with attacks on their mothers. The child may be a witness to this kind of violence and therefore be affected psychologically. This clearly is a violation of human rights and dignity of the children as protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Therefore, all States have a responsibility to protect human rights, a principle in human rights law known as R2P.
The Report also gives a global measure of violence, a matter that proved difficult to establish. It is difficult to get data on a subject that embraces intimate family relationships, involves societal taboos and is often condemned or illegal. The Report further records that childhood violence goes unrecorded for five major reasons:
- Lack of capacity on the part of the children;
- Fear. These children are afraid of being punished if they complain;
- Dependence. These children fear that they may lose the people they depend on as they are the perpetrators of the violence;
- Stigma; and
- Societal acceptance, where many societies view violence as normal and inevitable.
Even though there is data on childhood violence in various countries, there are gaps that need to be filled. For example, only 40 countries have data on physical violence while about 20 countries have data on sexual violence against adolescent girls. This begs the question, “What about the other forms of violence?” The answer, the reasons for non-reporting stated above. It becomes difficult therefore to elicit a conversation about violence with these data gaps.
Aggression and fear as a result of childhood violence can affect children at every stage of their childhood. These stages are as follows: Early childhood (0-4 years), Middle childhood (5-9 years), and Adolescence stage which is further subdivided into early (10-14 years) and late adolescence (15-19 years). In the middle childhood stage, children often go through physical and emotional violence by their peers. This occurs in schools through bullying as a result of their families’ financial status. Many children are affected by sexual violence and intimate partner violence in the adolescence stage. Discrimination then arises on basis of gender, disability, HIV status, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, ethnicity, among others.
This clearly shows that children are not violence-proof. They are vulnerable at any stage of their growth as they are at any setting. Children are constantly or continuously exposed to violence in multiple settings, a phenomenon called poly-victimization. These places are their homes, cyberspace, streets, criminal institutions, schools and other public spaces.
As much as this happens, the saying that every cloud has a silver lining brings hope. Childhood violence can be prevented if not stopped. Just as governments have a duty to protect human rights and human dignity for all persons, these same governments have put up structures in the form of policies, laws, safe havens, institutions and schools that protect children who undergo violence. In Kenya for example, there is the Department of Children Services established by Government that protects such children. Moreover, there are various non-governmental organizations and private institutions in Kenya that have dedicated their work to protecting children and eliminating violence against them. These include, but not limited to Save the Children Kenya, Child Fund, Childline Kenya and World Vision Kenya.
Besides having in place institutions and laws, there is the need of enhancing the capacity of parents and care-givers. This means that they need to be well informed about childhood violence in order for them to provide a safe environment for the children that is free from fear and aggression. Not forgetting that this capacity shall enable them to report any forms of violence that occur around their communities on behalf of their children.
Eliminating the root causes of violence is also another vital strategy to curb childhood violence. This involves examining and re-examining societal norms that view violence as a normal occurrence.
Chapter 6 of the Report essentializes public action in three ways:
- Breaking the silence through the use of media, advocacy and communication. Social media in this day and age can be very helpful in exposing the scale of such violence and bring to the attention of the public and the relevant interested parties;
- Strengthen violence-prevention systems. This calls for intersectoral coordination from the key stakeholders. The key issue being prevention. Thus the responsibility to achieve this rests with the government of the day. Funding from the government can and will improve the systems and institutions set up for the same agenda; and
- Improving knowledge and evidence through data collection, standardizing definitions and protocol for measurement, supporting specialized cross-sectoral research and promoting a strong culture of evaluation.
This Initiative is based on the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals and child rights. Children should be able to live in a violence-free society by 2030, the year in which all the SDGs shall be fully achieved. Domestic violence should become a scourge of the past and children should have safe spaces to live, study, play and travel. I believe that this is not just a dream but can be realized. We should start NOW!
Liz Amandla is Legal and Policy Writer with Mtoto News