Protecting children from violence
By Dr. Brian O'Toole
November 18, 2003
THE following Viewpoint is presented on behalf on the National Commission on the Rights of the Child.
In recent years there has been increased understanding of the nature and extent of violence against children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the broad scope of violence against children and clearly states that children have the right to protection from all of its forms.
However, violence against children is even more widespread than violence against adults. This is because the environment where children should be most protected is also the place they are most likely to be abused and neglected. Kidnapping, sexual, mental and physical abuse all happen more frequently within the family than outside of it. Moreover, some forms of abuse are still socially accepted. Many countries continue to allow parents the use of 'reasonable' forms of physical punishment to discipline their children. The beatings continue, in part because they are legally and socially permitted.
Definitions of what constitutes child abuse differ from country to country. But the Convention is unique in presenting almost universally accepted standards for the treatment of children. It establishes that violence against children, in any form and in any place, cannot be justified. Under the Convention, children have the right to their physical and personal integrity, and protection from 'all forms of physical and mental violence.'
The Convention has spearheaded change in how we think about children, since it affirms that children, like adults, have human rights. Taken from this perspective, contradictions in how we treat children come to light. For instance, if physical assault against an adult is illegal, why is it legal against a child? If wife beating is unacceptable, why should child beating, sometimes called 'reasonable force' in national laws, be permitted?
The Convention recognizes that all forms of violence are harmful and can have a negative impact on all aspects of a child's life. Children exposed to violence are more likely to suffer from malnutrition, illness, poor school performance and low self-esteem. Under the Convention, violence is a violation of children's human's rights.
A child raised in an environment that accepts violent behaviour tends to resolve conflict in violent ways. Preventing violence can mean teaching parents alternative ways of disciplining their children and how to relate to each other without violence.
In a number of countries all forms of violent and humiliating punishment against children ahs been outlawed. Eliminating systematic violence means teaching all members of society that human rights are for everyone.
Since the Convention cam into being, to protect children from violence, in all places, have widened in scope. But there are still many areas where work needs to be done.
Legal reform and educational campaigns against violent and degrading treatment of children are desperately needed. Among governments that protect adults from physical abuse, only a handful has given children the same degree of protection from physical abuse to adults.
Another area of concern is violent images in the media, and the mass sale of violent video games and toys. The Convention encourages child development that is respectful of other's rights, tolerant and in 'the spirit of peace.' However, the media and commercial interests often target children with violent images and forms of play. In Sweden the production of war toys has been banned, and Germany and Spain do not allow them to be advertised. Unfortunately, these countries remain a tiny minority.
And most worrying, is the increasing numbers of children affected by armed conflict. This has motivated a wide range of governments to an addition to the Convention of the Rights of the Child that would raise the age of recruitment into the armed forces and participation in hostilities from 15 and now stipulated in the Convention - to 18 years.
As the Convention on the Rights of the Child states our challenge is to take all appropriate legislative, administrative and educational measures to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, maltreatment or exploitation. We owe it to our children.