Violence Against Children

The United Nations has just issued a report, 'Why Children's Protection from Violence should be at the Heart of the Post-2015 Development Agenda'.  Unfortunately, the UN Report does not identify the fundamental cause of violence. Hence, its recommendations, which obviously cannot and do not include addressing this cause, are effectively useless and this report will have as much impact as previous official attempts to reduce violence in our world. The report also put too much emphasis on tools such as schooling and 'the rule of law' without critiquing these. 

Perpetrators of violence learn their craft in childhood. If you inflict violence on a child, it learns to inflict violence on others. The terrorist suffered violence as a child. The individual who perpetrates violence in the home, in the schoolyard or on the street suffered violence as a child. If we want to end violence, war and exploitation then we must finally end our longest and greatest war: the adult war on children. There is universal acceptance that behaviour is shaped by childhood experience. If it was not, we would not put such effort into education and other efforts to socialize children to fit into society. And this is why many psychologists have argued that exposure to war toys and violent video games shapes attitudes and behaviours in relation to violence.

But it is far more complex than this and, strange though it may seem, it is not just the 'visible' violence (such as hitting, screaming at and sexually abusing) that we normally label 'violence' that causes the main damage, although this is extremely damaging. The largest component of damage arises from the 'invisible' violence that we adults unconsciously inflict on children during the ordinary course of the day. Tragically, the bulk of this violence occurs in the family home and at school. So what is 'invisible' violence? It is the 'little things' we do every day, partly because we are just 'too busy'. For example, when we do not allow time to listen to, and value, a child's thoughts and feelings, the child learns to not listen to themselves thus destroying their internal communication system. When we do not let a child say what they want (or ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and behavioral dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically programmed to do). When we blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize with and/or judge a child, we both undermine their sense of Self-worth and teach them to blame, insult, lie, bribe, blackmail and so on.

The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by this 'invisible' violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others). However, parents, teachers and other adults also actively interfere with the expression of these feelings and the behavioral responses that are naturally generated by them and it is this 'utterly invisible' violence that explains why the dysfunctional behavioral outcomes actually occur.

For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a child into not expressing their feelings (e.g. by screaming at them when they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behavior that is generated by their feelings (e.g. by hitting them, restraining them or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings. Violence, even when we label it 'punishment', scares children and adults alike and cannot elicit a functional behavioural response. If someone behaves dysfunctionally, they need to be listened to, deeply, so that they can start to become consciously aware of the feelings (which will always include fear and, often, terror) that drove the dysfunctional behaviour in the first place. They then need to feel and express these feelings (including any anger) in a safe way. Only then will behavioural change in the direction of functionality be possible. So if we want to end human violence, we must tackle all of its symptoms simultaneously but, as part of our strategy, we must also tackle the cause. Primarily, this means giving everyone, child and adult alike, all of the space they need to feel, deeply, what they want to do, and to then let them do it (or to have the feelings they naturally have if they are prevented from doing so). 

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