Our future: Children, violence and Covid-19

IT is stated than 1 billion children are exposed to violence annually. Immediate and long-term effects are devastating amidst a lack of support from communities and government towards children’s mental health.  Aspects contributing to the lack of support include a deficiency of investment and competence in the delivery of quality, rights-based, culturally appropriate mental health care worldwide. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic amplifies these challenges weakening the capacity of child protection and mental health services to respond.

Children who are exposed to watching one parent violently assaulting another, often hear distressing sounds of violence. Violence in the home is one of the most prevalent human rights challenges we are facing.  Very few countries, communities or families openly confront domestic violence and it is not limited by geography, ethnicity, or status. It is a global phenomenon.

The disturbing effects of domestic violence on women are well documented. Far less on the impact on children who witness a parent or caregiver being exposed to violence. These children are the forgotten victims of violence in the home. The rights of every child need to be assured including freedom from violence and access to the best possible a mental health services available.

Defining ‘Violence in the Home’ Domestic violence or intimate partner violence is a pattern of attacking and intimidating behaviours including physical, sexual and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion against current or former intimate partners. Examples of physical abuse include slapping, shaking, beating with fist or object, strangulation, burning, kicking and threats with a knife. Sexual abuse includes coerced sex through threats or intimidation or through physical force, forcing unwanted sexual acts, forcing sex in front of others and forcing sex with others. Psychological abuse involves isolation from others, excessive jealousy, control of activities, verbal aggression, intimidation through destruction of property, harassment or stalking, threats of violence and incessant belittling and humiliation.

The widespread use of online platforms to lessen the impact of school closures on children’s education has intensified the problem of violence against children online, with children spending a greater proportion of unsupervised time on the internet. Furthermore, the stress and insecurity associated with the outbreak potentially has substantial negative effects on children’s mental wellbeing. Child abuse is less likely to be identified during the COVID-19 crisis, as child protection agencies reduce monitoring to avoid spreading the virus. The disruption of protective services can have anexceptionally high toll on children who are already in a vulnerable situation.

Impact of Violence on

Children

Consequences of children exposed to violence may lead to the development of:

• Depression

• Suicide

• Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

• Borderline Personality Disorder

• Anxiety

• Substance Abuse

• Sleep and Eating Disorders 

Of great concern is infants and small children who are exposed to violence in the home experiencingincreased emotional stress harming the development of their brains and impair cognitive and sensory growth. Behaviour changes can include:

• excessive irritability

• sleep problems

• emotional distress

• fear of being alone

• immature behaviour

• problems with toilet training

• language development

As children grow, they show signs of these problems in school.  Poor performance and poor concentration being most prevalent in the tell-tale signs.

Long Term Effects on Children Exposed to Violence

Children become at greater risk to develop more serious issues later in life, including:

• substance abuse

• juvenile pregnancy

• criminal behaviour

• damaged social development

• exhibit signs of more aggressive behaviour, such as bullying

There is a strong likelihood for a continuing cycle of violence for the next generation if not addressed in the appropriate ways. The single greatest predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence in later life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence. Not all children become victims or abusers and many who grew up with violence in the home are strongly opposed to violence of all types.

It is predicted that the pandemic will also have a negative impact in the longer term. The economic crisis will increase children’s vulnerability to violence. The World Bank has estimated that up to 100 million more people may be forced into extreme poverty drives child trafficking, sexual exploitation and recruitment of children into criminal gangs, and increased the risk of child marriage.

Protecting our Children

From our own childhoods we know that children need to feel safe and secure at home.  Free from violence with parents that love and protect them. There needs to be 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.  When children are exposed to violence in the home, they are essentially denied their right to a safe and stable home environment. Many are suffering silently, and with little support. Children need trusted adults to turn to for help and comfort, and services that will help them to cope with their experiences of violence. Far more must be done to protect these children and to prevent domestic violence from happening in the first place.

Adults who work with children, including teachers, social workers, relatives, and parents themselves, need awareness and skills to recognise and meet the needs of children exposed to violence in the home and refer children to suitable services. Children who have an adult who gives them love, warmth and attentive care manage better than those who do not. Children exposed to violence need to know that they are not at fault.

Schools are key in the strategy. School-based programmes can lead to a decreasein aggression and violence by helping children develop positive attitudes and values.  School programmes can give children a broader range of skills to avoid violent behaviour. Programmes that have proven successful include:

• conflict resolution

• cooperative play

• positive role models

Children need adults to speak out and break the silence. Children need hope for the future. Public education and awareness-raising campaigns should focus more on the impact of domestic violence on children and ways to address this. Positive parenting classes give parents and caregivers, the skills to support their children.  Mental health and child protection services must be seen as life-saving and essential services, and so too social protection and educational services forming part of an intersectoral and child rights-based response.

LifeLine/ChildLine’s Psychosocial Services to Children

Providing psychosocial services to children, victims and perpetrators are essential to the healing and growth of our nation.  LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia is a registered Welfare Organisation and NGO whose vision is ‘safer, healthier, more resilient children, families and communities in Namibia’. The organisation operates a National Counselling Centre in Windhoek, which handles different telephone, sms, face-to-face and online counselling services for the whole of Namibia. All services are free of charge.  Operating within their scope of practice and adhering to all national laws, our counsellors are ready to listen and assist.  The call centre is open from 08:00 – 20:00 daily.  LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia is here for you. Please do not play on the lines, you block the lines for those who may be in immediate need of help!