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Seeing Beyond Violence: Main report text

their reasons. Knowing more facts may add to the problem rather than suggest its solution. And as a society we are aware of most of the reasons anyway: poverty, too little education, war, hopelessness and no respect and appreciation of the child as a vulnerable human being.
Statistics tell the story of violence against children from one perspective, which is important but is only part of the story. The other part is the story told by the children themselves. This cannot be measured and presented statistically in graphs and figures: it needs a different kind of language.
Through decades of research in psychology, medicine, education, social and cultural stud-
ies we know more than any previous society about the needs and requirements of children
for growing up healthy, educated and emotionally stable. We have charters defining their rights. We understand better than ever the implications of gender and culture on childhood.
But what we understand about children and childhood comes from adult research. From
research about children, not research with or by children.
Children have a voice but it is a voice that is seldom heard. While their numbers are growing worldwide, they are rarely assembled in parliaments and decision making bodies. They are sometimes asked for their views, but even those who are well-meaning, often use this information for their own purposes. No doubt we will sometimes do the same.
In a research project about violence against children it is difficult to escape committing
acts of methodological violence. This brings an even more vital aspect of research into
play: the ethical codex of investigating the life of somebody else - of how to be non-violent within the investigation process.
We can start by asking children themselves to define the question. How do children define violence? What are their real life experiences and their social constructions? Is the definition what they have learnt in their given environment to verbalize through their elders or
do they have their own concept of a violence-free world? Is it the same for boys and girls?
The same whether growing up Muslim, Orthodox, Buddhist, Hindu or Christian?
Research based knowledge comes not just from accumulating information but from searching and analysing the roots and causes of problems, from reframing the categories we use and the words we use, from going deeper and deeper into the nature of a problem.
However one of the challenges of analysing the roots and causes of problems is that the analysis seldom offers clues for solutions. If we succeed in knowing more and in-depth about a problem, this does not immediately and of itself enable us as to change habits and to re-learn attitudes and values.
Research into violence against children has produced a long list of publications, its findings summarized in handbooks on children and domestic violence1, HIV/AIDS orphan

1 Trickett, Penelope K.; Cynthia J. Schellenbach (eds) (2002) Violence Against Children in the Family
and the Communtiy. American Psychological association, Washington DC.
reports2 or handbooks on poverty3. In a survey of research on `Out of Home Care in
Europe' over the last 20 years, one of the researchers came to the conclusion that there
exists an unbalanced majority of research into problem-based issues, maltreatment and
deficit issues - but almost nothing about the "happiness" of children.4
How would we turn research around, so that as well as measuring problems and deficits
we investigated the conditions of happiness? As a start, we need to begin qualitative enquir-
ies that deconstruct and reframe the question. Qualitative research might never be able to
identify the characteristics of the hundreds of thousands of children undergoing specific
ordeals. But it is valid for case studies and samples, which in turn can add to the numbers
and statistics, the feelings, the emotions, the individual realities, making the Gestalt of all
of them visible.
Qualitative Research oriented on Appreciative Inquiry further opens the investigation to
imaginative solutions, instead of focusing only on the agonizing analysis of the problems.
With systems thinking this enables another Gestalt to become visible. It allows us to study
the possibilities instead of the limits, it focuses on chances instead of problems. This ap-
proach has little in common with a positivist approach to reality, but focuses on the crea-
tivity of the human mind, on the imagination of what could be possible from starting
points in what already exists. It describes what in organisational development language
today is called "good practice".
Combining the Appreciative Inquiry approach and the fact that we want to learn from and
with children, SOS Children's Village designed a study based on child participation and the
search for what can be and could be - in the imagination of children and their given realities.
The reality of the child-researchers is framed by their personal history, by their gender, by
their cultural raising in various countries and by the fact that they are growing up in a spe-
cific setting: within family based care in a SOS Children's Village setting.
The research project "Seeing beyond Violence" was not set up to evaluate the work of the
individual Villages or the organisation in itself. Its aim is to learn from and with the chil-
dren, who all come with their life stories of trauma and loss, how they perceive the dis-
course and reality of violence and how they understand those elusive spheres of non vio-
We did not ask the children to talk to us about violence, since this would be a violent act
in itself. We asked them to imagine the absence of violence and the opposite of violence.
We wanted to see if we could move them beyond stereotyped phrases. How would they

2 UNAIDS/UNICEF/USAID (2002) Children on the Brink 2002: A Joint Report on Orphan Esti-
mates and Program Strategies. UNAIDS/UNICEF/USAID,
3 Kaul, Chandrika (2002) Statistical Handbook on the World's Children. OryxPress, Westport.
Kaul, Chandrika, Valerie Tomaselli-Moschovitis (1999) Statistical Handbook on Poverty in the Devel-
oping World. OryxPress, Westport.
4 Peter Egg, Verena Ganzer (2003) Out of Home Care in Europe. A Survey. Hermann Gmeiner
Academy, Research Management, Innsbruck.

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