What do children need? We know the answer from our own childhoods. First and
foremost, children need a safe and secure home, free of violence, and parents
that love and protect them. They need to have a sense of routine and stability so
that when things go wrong in the outside world, home is a place of comfort, help
and support. For too many children, home is far from a safe haven. Every year,
hundreds of millions of children are exposed to domestic violence at home, and
this has a powerful and profound impact on their lives and hopes for the future.
These children not only watch one parent violently assaulting another, they often
hear the distressing sounds of violence or maybe aware of it from many telltale
Violence in the home is one of the most pervasive human rights challenges of our
time. It remains a largely hidden problem that few countries, communities or
families openly confront. Violence in the home is not limited by geography,
ethnicity, or status; it is a global phenomenon. Some of the biggest victims of
domestic violence are the smallest and there are the children of the home. The
children are often known as the forgotten victims of violence in the home.
Children who grow up in a violent home are more likely to be victims of child
abuse. Those who are not direct victims have some of the same behavioral and
psychological problems as children who are themselves physically abused.
Children who are exposed to domestic violence in the home may suffer from
depression or sever anxiety, may exhibit violent, risky or delinquent behavior, and
may have difficulty learning and limited social skills. As many as 275 million
children world-wide are exposed to violence in the home. This range is a
conservative estimate based on the limitations of the available data. In actuality,
millions more children may be affected by violence in the home.
Several studies also reveal that children who witness domestic violence are more
likely to be affected by violence as adults-either as victims or perpetrators.
Children who live with and are aware of violence in the home face many
challenges and risks that can last throughout their lives. There is increased risk of
children becoming victims of abuse themselves. 40 per cent of children report
domestic violence in the home. One study showed that children who were
exposed to violence in the home were 15 times more likely to be physically
and/or sexually assaulted themselves. There is significant risk of ever increasing
harm to the child’s physical, emotional, and social development. Infants and small
children who are exposed to violence in the home experience so much added
emotional stress that it can harm the development of their brains and impair
cognitive and sensory growth. Behavior changes can include excessive irritability,
sleep problems, emotional distress, fear of being alone, immature behavior, and
problems with toilet training and language development. At an early age, a child’s
brain is becoming ‘hard wired’ for later physical and emotional functioning and
exposure to domestic violence threatens that development. Primary- school age
children may have more trouble with school work, and show poor concentration
and focus. In one study, forty percent had lower reading abilities. Personality and
behavioral problems among children exposed to violence in the home can take
the forms of psychosomatic illnesses, depression, suicidal tendencies, and bed
wetting. Later on in life, these children are at greater risk for substance abuse,
juvenile pregnancy and criminal behavior.
Studies also show that social development in children that witness domestic
violence is damaged. Children often lose the ability to feel empathy for others.
Others feel socially isolated, unable to make friends as easily due to social
discomfort or confusion over what is acceptable. Many studies show that children
from violent homes exhibit signs of more aggressive behavior such as bullying,
and are up to three times more likely to be involved in fighting. 40 percent of
chronically violent teenagers have been exposed to extreme domestic violence.
The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of
domestic violence late in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where
there is domestic violence. Studies show that the rates of abuse are higher among
women whose husbands were abused as a child or who saw their mothers being
abused. Children who grow up with violence in the home learn early and powerful
lessons about the use of violence in interpersonal relationships to dominate
others, and might even be encouraged in doing so. Many children who are
present during acts of domestic violence try to help. Studies show that 15 percent
of the cases when children were present, they tried to prevent the violence, and 6
percent tried to get outside help. Another 10 percent actively tried to protect the
victim or make the violence stop.
What children need:
Children can be better protected from the effects of domestic and better
supported in healing following exposure to this violence. Children need a safe and
secure home environment. Every child has the right to grow up in a safe from
harm environment. They should feel that they are safe and the ones they love are
also protected. Violence in the home shatters a child’s basic right to feel safe and
secure in the world.
Children need to know that there are adults who will listen to them, believe them
and shelter them. Adults who work with children, including teachers, social
workers, relatives, and parents themselves, need to awareness and skills to
recognize and meet the needs of children exposed to violence in the home and
refer children to appropriate services. Children need close dependable
relationships to help reduce the stress of living in a violent home. Children who
have an adult who gives them love; warmth and attentive care cope better than
those that do not. Children who are exposed to violence in the home need to
know that they are not alone and that the violence is not their fault.
Children need a sense of routine and normalcy. Violence in the home can turn a
child’s world upside down. Routines such as going to school and participating in
recreational activities are very important for children’s development and
wellbeing and should be maintained.
Children need support services to meet their needs. Responses to children
exposed to domestic violence should be comprehensive and holistic, taking into
account the range of effects and needs of different children. Children must have
places to go that are safe and supportive, whether it be with extended family or
at a domestic violence shelter.
Children need to learn that domestic violence is wrong and learn non-violent
methods of resolving conflicts. They have to see alternative role models in order
to grow up with a positive idea of the future. They have to be taught how to avoid
violence in personal relationships. They have to learn the correct way to handle
arguments when they happen without using physical or verbal abuse. Schoolbased
programs can reduce aggression and violence by helping children to
develop positive attitudes and values, and a broader range of skills to avoid
violent behavior. Other successful programs emphasize conflict resolution,
cooperative play and positive role models.
Children need adults to speak out and break the silence. Children who are
exposed to violence in the home need to know that things can change and that
violence in the home can end. Children need hope for the future, Children have
the right to a home environment that is safe and secure, and free of violence.
Governments carry a primary responsibility for ensuring that children and women
are safe and secure in their homes, and can take several key steps to ensure this.
Raise awareness of the impact of domestic violence on children. They message to
all must be that domestic violence is damaging to everyone including children
who are exposed to it. Just because children are young and they may not
understand what is going on does not mean that it does not affect them.
Create public policies and laws that protect children. Legislation and policies must
reinforce the message that domestic violence is a crime that perpetrators will be
punished and victims protected. These policies must focus on the protection of
children and address the impact of violence in the home on children. Courts and
government departments must have specialized policies in place to address the
safety of children, including in connection with custody and visitation rights.
Enhance social services that address the impact of violence in the home one
children. Governments must specifically allocate resources to support children
who are exposed to violence in the home. Interventions that support children are
crucial in minimizing the long-term harm. Some innovative programs exist to
address the needs of these children, for example through training staff who work
with children to detect early warning signs and to provide appropriate responses
and support. Providing services and support to adult victims of domestic violence
can benefit children, especially when the specific needs of children are
considered. Violence has no place in a child’s life. With a clear vision and
concrete action, we can and must give children a brighter and more
What do children need? We know the answer from our own childhoods. First and