CHILDREN AND VIOLENCE

 

Summary of the 1995 report of the Commission on Children and Violence

convened by the Gulbenkian Foundation in the UK

 

A) Background

 

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.

 

B) Introduction

 

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

to children.

 

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

conflict resolution.

3. Non-violence should be clearly and consistently prefered and

promoted.

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

approach.

 

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

safety strategies.

 

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

bullying.

 

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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