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Seeing Beyond Violence: Main report text

Seeing beyond Violence
Children as Researchers
1 Introduction

Our endeavour to learn with and from children on a global issue

A world abundant with tolerance and appreciation,
full of curiosity and the endeavour to understand the other.
Imagine respect towards nature, culture, gender, the elders and the young ones.
Imagine, a world where children can grow up in stable, supporting, caring environments.
Imagine, a world in which children are heard and listened to.

Recently a yellow press tabloid had a cover story on children and domestic violence. Pic-
tures of children, ranging from eight to maybe thirteen, their gruesome stories, all now
separated from their parents, living in foster homes or small group residential care. Stories
of abuse, neglect, maltreatment. Even the photo of a blood sodden T-shirt next to a tiny
girl, having been almost killed by her father, and detailed descriptions of human perver-
sity. Tabloid language and photos picturing emotionally and physically scarred children
longing in vain for a normal life.
The story leaves me puzzled. Does it really raise the issues of domestic violence? Was it
geared towards depicting youth welfare authorities as too slow in acting? Was it to press
on the readers' emotions so they would donate money for a shelter? Or was it using the
children's stories purely for higher circulation? (Only the latter would account for the
blood sodden T-shirt next to a girl's face, printed in colour). Or was it even a story about
human abnormalities, veiled in phoney compassion?
Violence comes in many forms. We are all of us quick to seize on the big issues - sexual
abuse, child trafficking, child labour, child pornography, hunger, physical violence, child
soldiers, hunger and children as refugees. But printing a picture of a blood sodden T-shirt
next to small children's faces might be a further, if more subtle form of abuse. What are
the consequences of such an act? For the reader, for the editor or for the girl and her fam-
ily? We are most of us aware that the landscape of violence is changing and that there are
new questions that need to be asked. Whether we consider something as violence or vio-
lent depends on a variety of factors that are themselves conceptually fluid, even problem-
atic, and which invoke gender, culture, education and age.
And usually we unite in the longing for non violence. But while we can perhaps imagine
lives free from physical violence, it is less easy to imagine a world free from institutional
or symbolic violence.

What is it really that we long for if we aspire to "no violence"? Would it mean freedom?
Security? Gender equality? Emotional stability? Happiness and Peace? A family environ-
ment for growing up? Food and education for all? Sufficient living conditions and income
for families rearing children? State support? No physical punishment, no female circumci-
sion? No ante-natal sex screening for sex selection and abortion of the unwanted sex?
Respect and appreciation of diversity concerning minorities, handicaps, special challenges?
No more skeletons walking on catwalks and depicting the western illusion of female bod-
ies into a Potemkin's glamour show of eating disorder and plastic surgery? The right to
wear the headscarf? An end to the paradigm of economic growth with simultaneous pau-
perisation of millions? Sustainable development? Affordable medication for all? Clean
drinking water? No more war movies? A cut down in divorce rate? Life sentence for rape
or murder? Protection, prevention and participation according to the Child Rights Char-
ter? Enough money in the annual state budgets for education, welfare and health and less
for rearmament? No more pictures and cover stories of one country bombing another live
on TV? Demilitarisation? The right of a child to divorce his family? Tolerance? Religious
It is easier, it seems, to define what we do not want than what we want. And being against
something easily unites us across our many differences, whereas taking a stand for some-
thing specific forces individuals to choose and take a stand - to step beyond anonymity.
As the notion of violence is also a social and gender issue, whatever the idea of "violence"
and "non violence" is will be influenced by social construction in any given cultural set-
When the UN announced a study on Violence against Children, NGOs like SOS Chil-
dren's Village were asked to participate. We responded because the issue of violence
against children is daily fact in the worldwide work of SOS Children's Village.
Children admitted to SOS Children's Villages come with an array of experiences of vio-
lence. The files and records are full of stories of abuse, neglect, poverty, hunger, physical
and emotional violence, war stories, trauma, personal tragedies of individuals and families.
The life stories of children and families participating in the SOS-Social Centres pro-
grammes multiply these findings.
As a global organisation it would have been possible for us to take the numerous stories
held in our files and to catalogue and categorize the various levels and intensity of reports
of violence against children. We could report on the number of children who have been
sexually assaulted. We would state numbers of children who almost have been starved
close to death, the numbers who were found on the street, we could state the amount of
crack babies, the amount of abandoned children, the amount of children whose parents
are alcoholics, on the dole, in jail, disinterested in their well being.
Such would be a bookkeeping exercise that would add to the analysis and categorisation of
violence. Whether it would help us understand the many forms of violence to be found in
our societies is less certain. Families who have abandoned babies are not easily interviewed
about their reasons and neither are families killed in civil war or by famine able to state
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