CHILDREN AND VIOLENCE
Summary of the 1995 report of the Commission on Children and Violence
convened by the Gulbenkian Foundation in the UK
The Commission on Children and Violence was convened to review what we know
about why children become violent, and the extent of violence to and by
children; it was asked to make detailed recommendations for violence
prevention on the basis of its review, and using the principles and
standards of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Commission, convened by the Gulbenkian Foundation, met between March
1994 and May 1995, inviting written submissions and receiving evidence,
advice and information from more than 400 individuals and organisations. It
also used material drawn from discussions with children and young people
through schools, other institutions and youth projects.
For a summary of why children become violent, see Section D.
Nobody, surely, wants a violent society. This is an issue on which we can
expect consensus. But we cannot leave it to chance. Building a non-violent
society means turning the consensus into an overt and active commitment to
non violence. The Commission believes that the current context of
heightened concern over violence involving children makes this the right
moment to promote such a commitment.
The overall aim is the creation of a safe, non-violent society for all. But
the focus is on children because there is ample evidence to show that what
happens in the early years, and in particular in the family and in schools,
is most influential in determining attitudes to violence.
C) Priority Recommendations
Recommendations 1: Making an active commitment to non-violence
The Commission proposes the adoption of a commitment to non-violence,
oulines ways of translating the commitment into consistent action, and sets
out ideas for co-ordinating a UK-wide strategy against violence.
1 a) The commitment
The Commission recommends that a commitment to non-violence - which does
not have to be pacifist or non-competitive - should be adopted by
individuals, communities, and governments at all levels; it should be of
similar standing to existing commitments to equal opportunities. The aims
of the commitment are to work towards a society in which individuals,
communities and government share non-violent values and resolve conflict by
non-violent means. The very considerable knowledge that has accumulated on
the roots of violence (summarised in Section 1 of the report) shows that
building such a society involves above all reducing and preventing violence
1 b) Checklists for working towards a non-violent society
The Commission wishes to see the consensus against violence and the
commitment translated into consistent action. It therefore proposes that a
series of Checklists for working towards a non-violent society should be
prepared and disseminated for parents and for all those working with or for
families and children, in conjunction with appropriate working groups of
practitioners. The Commission has started the process by drafting the first
generic checklist on parenting, included as an appendix in the report.
The Commission sees positive parenting as the foundation of a non-violent
society. It minimises the chances of children experiencing violence and,
consequently, minimises the likelihood that they in turn will behave
violently. Furthermore, the effect should be self-perpetuating, as such
children are likely to grow not only into non-violent adults, but also into
positive parents in their turn.
The Commission commends the following key principles to be applied to all
relationships involving the care and education of children:
1. Expectations of, and demands made on, children should realistically
reflect their maturity and development.
2. All discipline should be positive, and children should be taught
pro-social values and behaviour, including in particular non-violent
3. Non-violence should be clearly and consistently prefered and
4. Adults should take responsibility not only for protecting children
from violence done to them but also for preventing violence done by them.
The Commission recognises that any programme which contributes to timely
and realistic preparation for parenthood, to practical and emotional
support for parents and carers, and to opportunities for optimal health and
development for all children, is relevant to prevention of violence.
More specifically, the Commission believes that programmes, and the
services which produce them, must be reviewed from an anti-violence
perspective: focusing on what is being done or could be done within the
programme to prevent and combat violence, and to replace it with positively
non-violent attitudes, aspirations and behaviour.
1 c) Co-ordinating a UK-wide strategy against violence
Working towards a non-violent society should become the first priority of
community safety strategies at all levels of government, led by an
inter-departmental ministerial group and reflected in regional and local
co-ordination. A key segment of such strategies should be to reduce and
prevent violence involving children.
i) Local co-ordination - community safety strategies: The government
should introduce legislation to make the formation and implementation of a
community safety strategy a statutory duty of local authorities, setting
out the duty in such a way as to encourage an inter-agency, community-based
Working towards a non-violent society should be a key aim for local
community safety strategies, involving a particular focus on reducing and
preventing violence involving children. Local strategies should set out
ways of ensuring co-ordination of relevant preventive work including local
planning, child protection, prevention of family violence, suicide
prevention, accident prevention, prevention of sport violence, and victim
support and rehabilitation.
ii) Children's services plans: The Commission welcomes the decision of
the Department of Health to require local authorities to prepare and
publish plans for their children's services and to monitor their
implementation. These plans should be comprehensive, rather than limited to
children in need, and should include proposals for assessing, reducing and
preventing violence involving children.
iii) Voluntary neighbourhood schemes: Appropriate voluntary
organisations should come together to review any existing voluntary
initiatives in the UK or other countries which aim to reduce and prevent
violence involving children, and to consider how best to encourage the
development of voluntary and volunteer neighbourhood initiatives including
initiatives involving children within the overall framework of community
iv) Principles for implementation: The Commission emphasises that all
initiatives aiming to reduce and prevent violence should:
# encourage children's active participation: children's views should be
sought and given careful consideration, and their active participation
should be promoted.
This and other principles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
should be used as a framework for policy development.
# challenge discrimination: the violent victimisation of particular
groups in society should be recognised, and protection from violence and
prevention of violence should be sought without discrimination.
1 d) Promoting respect for children's rights
At a broader level, the Commission strongly supports the proposal for an
independent statutory office of Children's Rights Commissioner, to promote
children's rights and interests at government level and to encourage
co-ordination of policies affecting children.
Recommendations 2: Legal reforms
The Commission makes various recommendations for legal reform, some of
which are summarised below, designed in particular to remove any legal
tolerance for any level of violence to children, and to ensure that
responses to violent behaviour contribute to violence prevention, rather
than to the problem of violence.
2 a) Physical punishment and deliberate humiliation of children
The current common law defence of 'reasonable chastisement' in so far as it
justifies physical punishment or other humiliating treatment or punishment
should be removed for the purposes of both criminal and civil proceedings.
The Commission favours removing the concept of 'reasonable chastisement'
altogether and replacing it with parental duties to guide and safeguard
their children according to their evolving capacities, in conformity with
the UN Convention.
2 b) Parental responsibility for children
Laws concerning the upbringing of children in all jurisdictions should
provide a definition of parental responsibility, and of parental rights
necessary to exercise responsibility.
2 c) The criminal justice system
Rehabilitation, and necessary protection of the public from serious harm,
should be the sole aims of the criminal justice system for under 18-year
olds. It should be reviewed to ensure full compliance with the UN
Convention and relevant UN instruments.
2 d) Bullying
Responsible government departments should require all institutional
settings for children and young people to implement policies for preventing
2 e) Guns and weapons
The law on possession and use of firearms including air guns by children
should be reviewed and simplified.
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