A global study published today by UNICEF and The Body Shop International reveals the devastating and lasting impact on children of living with domestic violence.
Defining domestic violence as the physical, sexual or mental abuse of a parent or caregiver, the report finds that the experience of watching, hearing or otherwise being aware of domestic violence can impact children`s physical, emotional and social development, both during childhood and later in life.
In the vast majority of cases, domestic violence is perpetrated against women. At least one in three women globally has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way-most often by someone she knows, including by her husband or another male family member.
Globally, one woman in four has been abused during pregnancy. The report turns attention to the lesser-known facts: the impact on children who are exposed to this violence.
Based on global data from the United Nations Secretary-General`s Study on Violence against Children, the report conservatively estimates that as many as 275 million children are currently exposed to domestic violence. The fact that domestic violence is chronically underreported and that some countries have no data at all makes it difficult to quantify how many children it affects.
“Domestic violence can have a lasting negative impact on children”,UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in New York. “It is critical that children grow up in safe and stable environments, free of violence”.
The Body Shop International is helping to take action against domestic violence by launching its 2006 Stop Violence in the Home Campaign, which focuses on children as the forgotten victims.
Dame Anita Roddick, Founder of The Body Shop, added, “Our report shows that some of the biggest victims of domestic violence are the smallest. Protecting children should be the absolute concern of everybody who is working to see an end to domestic violence. We urge everyone to rally behind this global campaign”.
The report finds that children who live with domestic violence not only endure the distress of being surrounded by violence, but are more likely to become victims of abuse themselves. An estimated 40 per cent of child-abuse victims also have reported domestic violence in the home.
Even when children are not physically abused themselves, their exposure to domestic violence can have severe and lasting effects. The impact begins early: studies show that younger children are more likely to be exposed to domestic violence than older children, which can impair their mental and emotional growth in a critical stage of development.
As they grow up, children who are exposed to domestic violence continue to face a range of possible effects including trouble with school work, limited social skills, depression, anxiety and other psychological problems. They are at greater risk for substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and delinquent behaviour, according to the report.
The report also finds that the single best predictor of children continuing the cycle of domestic violence – either as perpetrators or as victims – depends on whether or not they grow up in a home with domestic violence. Research shows that rates of abuse are higher among women whose husbands were abused as children or who saw their mothers being abused. Many studies have also found that children from violent homes show signs of more aggressive behaviour, such as bullying, and are up to three times more likely to be involved in fighting.
The report urges governments and societies to pay more attention to the specific needs of children who live in homes impacted by domestic violence. It also identifies the need for better monitoring and reporting on the prevalence of domestic violence in order to shed light on this hidden issue.
Governments have a vital role to play in breaking the cycle of domestic violence and protecting the youngest victims of domestic violence, and are urged to:
* Raise awareness of the impact of domestic violence on children through public education campaigns and efforts to challenge beliefs and customs that condone violence.
* Create public policies and laws that protect children. Governments must enact and enforce laws and policies that criminalize domestic violence and protect all its victims.
* Improve social services that address the impact of violence in the home on children. Interventions that support children who are exposed to domestic violence help minimize the long-term risks to these children and must be adequately funded and scaled-up.
The Body Shop`s Stop Violence in the Home campaign aims to raise awareness and to encourage governments to better protect and support children who are exposed to domestic violence.
New York/London, 1 August 2006, UNICEF/The Body Shop Press release