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Why are our children violent?

17 November 2010

Children need to be loved and protected from violence to stop them from becoming perpetrators of violence themselves. Photo: Thetravellinged via Flickr

Children need to be loved and protected from violence to stop them from becoming perpetrators of violence themselves. Photo: Thetravellinged via Flickr

South Africa was recently shocked by the gang-rape of a school girl by three of her fellow pupils. The girl was drugged and raped while other pupils watched and filmed it on their cellphones. Why are some children in South Africa so violent and what can be done about it?

Some people have spoken about a “culture of violence” in South Africa, but implying that violence is inherently South African is not helpful. The cause of the problem needs to be found and addressed.

South Africa is not the only country that struggles with violent and dysfunctional youth. Safe Families Safe Children, an international group of renowned child rights organisations, including ACER Brasil, The International Children’s Trust, JUCONI Ecuador, JUCONI Mexico, New Life (South Africa) and Railway Children (UK, India and East Africa) “promote access for highly excluded children from violent homes around the world to the support and services they require to recover from their traumatic life experiences and gain sustainable access to their rights”.

In this organisation’s “Manifesto of Change” they site the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study which “found a clear link between the adverse experiences in childhood (including physical, emotional or sexual abuse and living in households with domestic violence) and a range of physical, emotional and social problems, including: heart disease, obesity, depression, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, rape and poor job performance”.

Children who experience violence in their families feel neglected and excluded from their community. They often end up on the street. Photo: Phil @ Delfryn Design via Flickr

Children who experience violence in their families feel neglected and excluded from their community. They often end up on the street. Photo: Phil @ Delfryn Design via Flickr

The Manifesto also states that a study in the UK had found that 72% of children who have killed or committed serious, usually violent, crimes, have experienced abuse.

These children do not take active part in their community as they feel neglected or not part of that community. They often end up on the streets as they experience violence, rather than love, from their families.

Safe Families Safe Children believes that action must be taken on three levels to break the cycle of violence.

In the field the internal and external needs of the most excluded children from violent homes should be met. Not only must the violence be stopped and youths be given access to education and health care, but the youths need to be helped to emotionally recover from the trauma of abuse.

Secondly, community stakeholders must be able to recognise and work with the most excluded children from violent homes in the communities.

Thirdly, policies and guidelines should be drawn up that prioritise and address the experiences and emotional needs of these children in government and funding agencies.

New Life believes in working not only with the children,  but also their families. However, this is a difficult process. Photo: Thetravellinged via Flickr

New Life believes in working not only with the children, but also their families. However, this is a difficult process. Photo: Thetravellinged via Flickr

The aim is to ensures that vulnerable children are recognised and participate in society and can fulfill their goals in life.

New Life, the South African partner of Safe Families Safe Children,  does not only work with street children, but also tries to engage their families, taking a holistic approach. According to their website, their vision is “to empower out of school/street (most excluded) children and their families, living in violent and poor communities, to combat the problems of poverty, lack of schooling, family violence, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS”.

This is a difficult process as children cannot go back to dysfunctional families without the families first undergoing serious change. Not all families are open to this process. But often institutionalisation does not work for children either and they end up on the streets. How do you think the issue of most excluded children from violent homes should be addressed? Please leave your comment below.

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