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Catherine L Ward
16 Oct 2014 17:06
We need to find ways of shifting norms so that the human rights of women and children become an essential part of how we conduct both our private and public lives. (Reuters)
In the week that South Africa’s crime statistics were released, I was at a conference about global violence reduction
conference. It was eerie to be listening to presentations about achievable
violence reduction while watching the release of the 2014 SA crime statistics
on Twitter. With murder and robbery both up, the downward trend in violent
crime that we enjoyed for a few years, is over.
The conference’s overwhelming message was
that it is possible to achieve the goal of reducing violence by 50% in
the next 30 years.
Evidence from other countries (including high-violence
societies) made it clear that a concerted effort from political leadership is
what is needed, and it must cut across all sectors of government.
Economic development and the reduction of
inequality in society will go a long way to reducing violence, by providing
people – particularly young people – with hope for the future, in the form of
being able to make a living wage.
Political leadership that holds to the rule
of law and government departments – including the police and the courts – that
enforce it will also reduce criminal offences of all kinds.
All of those are immediate approaches to
violence reduction that could be implemented quickly. But we also need to
take a longer-term approach — and that means paying attention to how we raise
our children. Education is key: functioning, safe schools that provide an
education leading to employment are critical for preventing youth violence (as
well as a other social ills such as risky sexual behaviour and substance
abuse). Good life skills teaching – learning respect for others and ways
of avoiding conflict – should be an integral part of the school curriculum.
We also need to find ways of shifting norms
so that the human rights of women and children (and in particular the right to
be safe from violence) become an essential part of how we conduct both our
private and public lives.
If we are to raise children who are not
biologically and psychologically programmed to be aggressive, we need to focus
on four areas:
• Nutrition for pregnant women and for
children: poor nutrition during pregnancy and childhood compromises brain
development and increases the likelihood of both poor school achievement and
• Helping mothers and newborns attach to
each other, to develop a strong, positive, psychological bond, which gives
young children a sense of what a good relationship is like and helps them to avoid
aggressive interactions in the future.
• Cognitive stimulation for young children,
again to promote brain development.
• Support for parents to manage child
behaviour, to reduce both child maltreatment and children’s aggression.
Child maltreatment is a particular problem
in South Africa. Recent work from the Medical Research Council and UCT’s
Division of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology showed that more 450 South African
children died in 2009 as a result of fatal child abuse. Yet fatal child abuse
is only the tip of the iceberg: many more children suffer abuse than those who
die of it.
Non-fatal child abuse also has serious consequences: abused children
are far more likely to develop serious health problems, to do poorly at school,
to struggle to hold a good job when they leave school, to be abusive to their
own children, and to get involved in violence and crime. Interrupting the
cycle of child abuse is vital.
I am part of research teams working on
child maltreatment prevention in South Africa. We need good data to understand
the extent and nature of child abuse in the country so we can focus our
are carrying out a national study of child maltreatment, which will provide the
country’s first-ever data on the subject. We are testing three parenting programmes for parents to find
non-violent ways to manage their children’s behaviour. The programmes are
together called Parenting for Lifelong Health. Together, these projects should
assist in dropping rates of child maltreatment across South Africa, and
reducing crime and violence in the next generation.
The conference began and ended, most aptly,
with these words from Nelson Mandela, from his foreword to the World Report on
Violence and Health: “Violence can be prevented. Violent cultures can be turned
around … We owe our children – the most vulnerable members in any society – a
life free from violence and fear.”
We need to work together to attain his
vision. It is possible.
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