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Seeing Beyond Violence: Main report text

Objectives and Methodology
· Female genital mutilation
"Estimates of the total number of women living today who have been subjected to
FGM/C in Africa range between 100 and 130 million. Given current birth rates this
means that some 2 million girls are at risk of some form of female genital mutilation e-
very year. Most of the girls and women who have undergone FGM/C live in 28 African
countries, although some live in Asia. They are also increasingly found in Europe, Aus-
tralia, Canada and the USA, primarily among immigrants from Africa and southwestern
· Juvenile justice
"Children in detention often suffer severe violations of their basic rights. Arrest, deten-
tion and sentencing are often arbitrary and sometimes even illegal - the results of extra-
judicial proceedings by police or military systems in which no civil protections exist. De-
tained children can be below the age of criminal responsibility and kept with adult pris-
oners who may abuse them."15
It is clear that there is an extensive research literature on different aspects of violence, and
especially its effects on the lives of children, and that this literature broadens the topic to
include child mortality, malnutrition, HIV/Aids, poverty, genocide16 as well as political
violence17, which can all be framed as violence against children.
The motive for much of this research is to create the basis of a world in which violence is
reduced, eliminated, or no longer necessary. To create a world in which there is no vio-
lence against children is a great aim. But, since violence, in some form, is so engrained in
almost all cultures and social structures, just to raise the possibility of a world without
violence immediately prompts questions about what such a world would look like. For
most of us, to eliminate, or even just to reduce, violence is as far as our imagination takes
us. The ideal future we imagine is one in which violence is absent. The implicit assump-
tion we make is that a world without violence would be like the world we have now, but it
would be a better and more harmonious place.
Perhaps so, but it would also be very different to the world we know, because to remove
facets of society that are so deeply part of its structure would inevitably lead to change.
Changes that we find it difficult to predict. At the least we would expect to find new cul-
tural forms emerging, but we would also expect changes in some of our basic institutions
­ the family, schools and work.
How might we begin to imagine such a world?
In this study we did not set out to add to the accumulated evidence on violence against
children but to try and turn the instruments of research around so that we could see the
world as children see it. One aspect of the problem, we believe, is that to continue to add
to the research on violence against children, important as it is to do so, risks the conse-

14 ibid: Female genital mutilation.
15 ibid: Juvenile Justice.
16 Kent, George (1999) Structural Violence against Children. Paper presented at the Day of
General Discussion, OHCHR, September 2000, Geneva. University of Hawai'I.
17 Cairns, Ed (1996) Children and Political Violence. Blackwell, Cambridge/Mass.
Objectives and Methodology
quence that it reinforces the role of children as victims, which is in itself a symbolic act of
We do not want to deny the facts, but we want to create some small space in which chil-
dren themselves can speak. In this study we set out to ask children to help us imagine fac-
ets of the world as they want it to be, not in abstract or futuristic terms but in terms cir-
cumscribed by their lives. We chose groups of children in four countries, Nicaragua, Co-
lombia, Thailand and India who shared the fact that they had been orphaned or aban-
doned and were growing up in SOS Children's Villages. We asked them to tell us about the
aspects of their lives that they most valued. We explained to them that most languages do
not have a word which describes `the opposite of violence', only words that are negatives
`absence of violence' and `non-violence', or words that are used so indiscriminately as to
be almost meaningless, like `love' and `peace'.
We knew that to ask children to respond to these questions in words alone was too ab-
stract and too difficult and so we asked them to approach the task through images. We
gave them digital cameras and asked them to photograph the most positive aspects of their
lives, the things that were important to them, the things (people and places) that they
loved, where they felt secure/protected and the things that were fun. Some of them we
asked to select those photos that were of highest importance for them and to explain to us
why and to write down their words. We asked them to share their images and to talk about
them and it is the results of this project that we will report here.
2.1.2 Participation
of Children in Research
One of the most commonly encountered forms of structural violence involves collecting
information from people and removing it for analysis, interpretation and application.
Whatever the intentions of the researcher, and however carefully ethical issues are consid-
ered, this is a form of alienation that is increasingly common in all societies and an en-
demic problem in most research.
In this study we wanted to find ways of working in which information, and its interpreta-
tion and application, are shared (as far as possible) with those who provide it. The guiding
principle we adopted is that `people own the facts of their lives', and that this sense of
ownership should be respected. There are of course costs in doing this. The process of
research has to be open, which means that the project has to be localised if relationships
are to be established, time has to be given to establishing these relationships, and the pro-
ject has to be open to adaptation and change as those who are its subjects become in-
volved in its process and understand its aims and purposes.
This is a qualitative study, but it is qualitative, not because we have a commitment to
qualitative methods, but because the principles of participation require that we work in
ways that make participation possible. We chose to work with digital photography because
this provides the basis for methods that are transparent, that involve children and adults
directly and immediately in collecting, interpreting and using information without the need
for extensive training, understanding of theory or knowledge of the research literature.