Devastating impact of violence
Violence can affect a child for the rest of their life, with severe consequences for a child’s physical, psychological and mental health. Without adequate support and care, violence and trauma can have long-term effects on a child’s development and future life.Children who have experienced violence are also more likely to perpetuate the circle of violence, passing on patterns of violence to their peers or to future generations.Therefore, ending violence against children is not only important for each child’s rights, but also for healthy communities and societies.
Violence against children includes all forms of violence against people under 18 years old, whether perpetrated by parents or other caregivers, peers, romantic partners, or strangers.
Globally, it is estimated that up to 1 billion children aged 2–17 years, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the past year (1).
Experiencing violence in childhood impacts lifelong health and well-being.
Target 16.2 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against, and torture of, children”.
Evidence from around the world shows that violence against children can be prevented.
Types of violence against children
Most violence against children involves at least one of six main types of interpersonal violence that tend to occur at different stages in a child’s development.
Maltreatment (including violent punishment) involves physical, sexual and psychological/emotional violence; and neglect of infants, children and adolescents by parents, caregivers and other authority figures, most often in the home but also in settings such as schools and orphanages.
Bullying (including cyber-bullying) is unwanted aggressive behaviour by another child or group of children who are neither siblings nor in a romantic relationship with the victim. It involves repeated physical, psychological or social harm, and often takes place in schools and other settings where children gather, and online.
Youth violence is concentrated among children and young adults aged 10–29 years, occurs most often in community settings between acquaintances and strangers, includes bullying and physical assault with or without weapons (such as guns and knives), and may involve gang violence.
Intimate partner violence (or domestic violence) involves physical, sexual and emotional violence by an intimate partner or ex-partner. Although males can also be victims, intimate partner violence disproportionately affects females. It commonly occurs against girls within child marriages and early/forced marriages. Among romantically involved but unmarried adolescents it is sometimes called “dating violence”.
Sexual violence includes non-consensual completed or attempted sexual contact and acts of a sexual nature not involving contact (such as voyeurism or sexual harassment); acts of sexual trafficking committed against someone who is unable to consent or refuse; and online exploitation.
Emotional or psychological violence includes restricting a child’s movements, denigration, ridicule, threats and intimidation, discrimination, rejection and other non-physical forms of hostile treatment.
When directed against girls or boys because of their biological sex or gender identity, any of these types of violence can also constitute gender-based violence.
Impact of violence
Violence against children has lifelong impacts on health and well-being of children, families, communities, and nations. Violence against children can:
Result in death. Homicide, which often involves weapons such as knives and firearms, is among the top three causes of death in adolescents, with boys comprising over 80% of victims and perpetrators.
Lead to severe injuries. For every homicide, there are hundreds of predominantly male victims of youth violence who sustain injuries because of physical fighting and assault.
Impair brain and nervous system development. Exposure to violence at an early age can impair brain development and damage other parts of the nervous system, as well as the endocrine, circulatory, musculoskeletal, reproductive, respiratory and immune systems, with lifelong consequences. As such, violence against children can negatively affect cognitive development and results in educational and vocational under-achievement.
Result in negative coping and health risk behaviours. Children exposed to violence and other adversities are substantially more likely to smoke, misuse alcohol and drugs, and engage in high-risk sexual behaviour. They also have higher rates of anxiety, depression, other mental health problems and suicide.
Lead to unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynaecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Contribute to a wide range of non-communicable diseases as children grow older. The increased risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health conditions is largely due to the negative coping and health risk behaviours associated with violence.
Impact opportunities and future generations. Children exposed to violence and other adversities are more likely to drop out of school, have difficulty finding and keeping a job, and are at heightened risk for later victimization and/or perpetration of interpersonal and self-directed violence, by which violence against children can affect the next generation.
Violence against children is a multifaceted problem with causes at the individual, close relationship, community and societal levels. Important risk factors are:
biological and personal aspects such as sex and age
lower levels of education
having a disability or mental health problems
being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
harmful use of alcohol and drugs
a history of exposure to violence.
lack of emotional bonding between children and parents or caregivers
poor parenting practices
family dysfunction and separation
being associated with delinquent peers
witnessing violence between parents or caregivers
early or forced marriage.
high population density
low social cohesion and transient populations
easy access to alcohol and firearms
high concentrations of gangs and illicit drug dealing.
social and gender norms that create a climate in which violence is normalized
health, economic, educational and social policies that maintain economic, gender and social inequalities
absent or inadequate social protection
post-conflict situations or natural disaster
settings with weak governance and poor law enforcement.
Prevention and response
Violence against children can be prevented. Preventing and responding to violence against children requires that efforts systematically address risk and protective factors at all four interrelated levels of risk (individual, relationship, community, society).
Under the leadership of WHO, a group of 10 international agencies have developed and endorsed an evidence-based technical package called INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children. The package aims to help countries and communities achieve SDG Target 16.2 on ending violence against children. Each letter of the word INSPIRE stands for one of the strategies, and most have been shown to have preventive effects across several different types of violence, as well as benefits in areas such as mental health, education and crime reduction.
INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against childrenThe seven strategies are:
Implementation and enforcement of laws (for example, banning violent discipline and restricting access to alcohol and firearms);
Norms and values change (for example, altering norms that condone the sexual abuse of girls or aggressive behaviour among boys);
Safe environments (such as identifying neighbourhood “hot spots” for violence and then addressing the local causes through problem-oriented policing and other interventions);
Parental and caregiver support (for example, providing parent training to young, first time parents);
Income and economic strengthening (such as microfinance and gender equity training);
Response services provision (for example, ensuring that children who are exposed to violence can access effective emergency care and receive appropriate psychosocial support); and
Education and life skills (such as ensuring that children attend school, and providing life and social skills training).
A May 2016 World Health Assembly resolution endorsed the first ever WHO Global plan of action on strengthening the role of the health system within a national multisectoral response to address interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children.
According to this plan, WHO in collaboration with Member States and other partners, is committed to:
Monitoring the global magnitude and characteristics of violence against children and supporting country efforts to document and measure such violence.
Maintaining an electronic information system that summarizes the scientific data on the burden, risk factors and consequences of violence against children, and the evidence for its preventability.
Developing and disseminating evidence-based technical guidance documents, norms and standards for preventing and responding to violence against children.
Regularly publishing global status reports on country efforts to address violence against children through national policies and action plans, laws, prevention programmes and response services.
Supporting countries and partners in implementing evidence-based prevention and response strategies, such as those included in INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children.
Collaborating with international agencies and organizations to reduce and eliminate violence against children globally, through initiatives such as the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, Together for Girls and the Violence Prevention Alliance.
Symptoms children may have while witnessing HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=1” o “Edit section: Symptoms children may have while witnessing” edit
Physical symptoms HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=2” o “Edit section: Physical symptoms” edit
In general, children who witness domestic violence in the home can suffer an immense amount of physical symptoms along with their emotional and behavioral state of despair. These children may complain of general aches and pain, such as headaches and stomach aches. They may also have irritable and irregular bowel habits, cold sores, and they may have problems with bed-wetting. These complaints have been associated with depressive disorders in children, a common emotional effect of domestic violence. Along with these general complaints of not feeling well, children who witness domestic violence may also appear nervous, as previously mentioned, and have short attention spans. These children display some of the same symptoms as children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. On the reverse, these children may show symptoms of HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatigue_(medical)” o “Fatigue (medical)” fatigueand constant tiredness. They may fall asleep in school due to the lack of sleep at home. Much of their night may be spent listening to or witnessing violence within the home. Children of domestic violence victims are often frequently ill, and may suffer from poor personal hygiene. Children who witness domestic violence also have a tendency to partake in high risk play activities, self-abuse, and suicide.2Prenatal HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=3” o “Edit section: Prenatal” edit
The physical effects of domestic violence on children, different than the effects of direct abuse, can start when they are fetus in their mother’s womb, can result in low infant birth weights, premature birth, excessive bleeding, and fetal death, due to the mother’s physical trauma and emotional stress. Increased maternal stress during the times of abuse, especially when combined with smoking and drug abuse, can also lead to premature deliveries and low weight babies.4 When a woman is stressed while pregnant, the baby can be born with stress and anxiety and can sometimes have problems with growth.
Infants HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=4” o “Edit section: Infants” edit
Infant children who are present in the home where domestic violence occurs often fall victim to being “caught in the crossfire.” They may suffer physical injuries from unintentional trauma as their parent is suffering from abuse. Infants may be inconsolable and irritable, have a lack of responsiveness secondary to lacking the emotional and physical attachment to their mother, suffer from developmental delays, and have excessive diarrhea from both trauma and stress.citation needed Infants are most affected by the environment of abuse because the child’s brain hasn’t fully developed.
Older children HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=5” o “Edit section: Older children” edit
Physical effects of witnessing domestic violence in older children are less evident than behavioral and emotional effects. The trauma that children experience when they witness domestic violence in the home, plays a major role in their development and physical well being. Older children can sometimes turn the stress towards behavioral problems. Sometimes children who see the abuse turn to drugs, hoping to take the pain away. The children, however, will exhibit physical symptoms associated with their behavioral or emotional problems, such as being withdrawn from those around them, becoming non-verbal, and exhibiting regressed behaviors such as being clingy and whiney. Anxiety often accompanies a physical symptom in children who witness domestic violence in the home. If their anxiety progresses to more physical symptoms, they may show signs of tiredness from lack of sleep and weight and nutritional changes from poor eating habits.5Assessment HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=6” o “Edit section: Assessment” edit
Children who witness domestic violence in the home should be assessed for the physical effects and physical injuries. Some physical findings may be difficult to evaluate, like changes in their eating habits, sleep patterns, or bowel patterns should be further examined or questioned by someone whom they trust.citation needed
Behavioral symptoms HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=7” o “Edit section: Behavioral symptoms” edit
Children exposed to domestic violence are likely to develop behavioral problems, such as regressing, exhibiting out of control behavior, HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children” l “cite_note-acadv-2” 2 and imitating behaviors. Children may think that violence is an acceptable behavior of intimate relationships and become either the abused or the abuser. Some warning signs are bed-wetting, nightmares, distrust of adults, acting tough, having problems becoming attached to other people and isolating themselves from their close friends and family. Another behavioral response to domestic violence may be that the child may lie in order to avoid confrontation and excessive attention-getting. HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citation_needed” o “Wikipedia:Citation needed” citation needed
In addition, to the behavioral symptoms of children, a source that supports this article is about a study that has been done by Albert Bandura (1977). The study that was presented was about introducing children to a role model that is aggressive, non-aggressive and a control group that showed no role model. This study is called, “The Bobo Doll Experiment”, the experiment has influenced the children to act similar to their role model towards the doll itself. The children who were exposed to violence acted with aggression, the children who were exposed to a non-aggressive environment were quite friendly. As a result, children can be highly influenced by what is going on in their environment.6Adolescents are in jeopardy of academic failure, school drop-out, and substance abuse.7Their behavior is often guarded and secretive about their family members and they may become embarrassed about their home situation. Adolescents generally don’t like to invite friends over and they spend their free time away from home. Denial and aggression are their major forms of problem-solving. Teens cope with domestic violence by blaming others, encountering violence in a relationship, or by running away from home.7Teen dating violence HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=8” o “Edit section: Teen dating violence” edit
An estimated 1/5 to 1/3 of teenagers subject to viewing domestic violent situations experience teen dating violence, regularly abusing or being abused by their partners verbally, mentally, emotionally, sexually and/or physically. 30 to 50% of dating relationships can exhibit the same cycle of escalating violence in their marital relationships.8Physical symptoms HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=9” o “Edit section: Physical symptoms” edit
Physical symptoms are a major effect on children due to parental domestic violence. In a study, 52% of 59 children yelled from another room, 53% of 60 children yelled from the same room, a handful actually called someone for help and some just became significantly involved themselves during the abusive occurrence. When the unfortunate violent situation is at its peak and a child tries to intervene, logically we would have thought that in order to save their child from harm, parents would control themselves, however, statistics show otherwise. It is said that about 50% of the abusers also end up abusing their children. Another alarming statistic is that 25% of the victims of the abusive relationship also tend to get violent with their children. The violence imposed on these children can in some cases be life-threatening. If a mother is pregnant during the abuse, the unborn child is at risk of lifelong impairments or at risk of life itself. Researchers have studied, amongst perinatal and neonatal statistics, mothers who experience domestic violence had more than double the risk of child mortality.
Emotional symptoms HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=10” o “Edit section: Emotional symptoms” edit
Children exposed to violence in their home often have conflicting feelings towards their parents; For instance, distrust and affection often coexist for the abuser. The child becomes overprotective of the victim and feels sorry for them.9They often develop anxiety, fearing that they may be injured or abandoned, that the child’s parent being abused will be injured, or that they are to blame for the violence that is occurring in their homes.10 Grief, shame, and low self esteem are common emotions that children exposed to domestic violence experience.10Depression HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=11” o “Edit section: Depression” edit
Depression is a common problem for children who experience domestic violence. The child often feels helpless and powerless. More girls internalize their emotions and show signs of depression than boys. Boys are more apt to act out with aggression and hostility.10 Witnessing violence in the home can give the child the idea that nothing is safe in the world and that they are not worth being kept safe which contributes to their feelings of low self-worth and depression.
Anger HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=12” o “Edit section: Anger” edit
Some children act out through anger and are more aggressive than other children. Even in situations that do not call for it, children will respond with anger.11 Children and young people particularly highlighted angry feelings as a consequence of experiencing domestive violence.12 Physical aggression can also manifest towards the victim from the children as the woman does not have the ability to develop authority and control over them.13Post traumatic stress disorder HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=13” o “Edit section: Post traumatic stress disorder” edit
Post traumatic stress disorder can result in children from exposure to domestic violence. Symptoms of this are nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, increased alertness to the environment, having problems concentrating, and can lead to physical symptoms.14 If the child experiences chronic early maltreatment within the caregiving relationship, then Complex post-traumatic stress disorder can result.
Role reversal HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=14” o “Edit section: Role reversal” edit
There is sometimes role reversal between the child and the parent and the responsibilities of the victim who is emotionally and psychologically dysfunctional are transferred to the child.15 In this situation, the parents treat their child as a therapist or confidant, and not as their child. They are forced to mature faster than the average child. They take on household responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for younger children.16 The responsibilities that they take on are beyond normally assigned chores and are not age appropriate. The child becomes socially isolated and is not able to participate in activities that are normal for a child their age. The parentified child is at risk for becoming involved in rocky relationships because they have been isolated and are not experienced at forming successful relationships. Also, they tend to become perfectionists because they are forced to live up to such high expectations for their parents.17Social symptoms HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=15” o “Edit section: Social symptoms” edit
Children exposed to domestic violence frequently do not have the foundation of safety and security that is normally provided by the family. The children experience a HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desensitization_(psychology)” o “Desensitization (psychology)” desensitizationto aggressive behavior, poor anger management, poor problem solving skills, and learn to engage in exploitative relationships.2Symptoms include isolation from friends and relatives in an effort to stay close to siblings and victimized parent.2The adolescent may display these symptoms by joining a gang or becoming involved in dating relationships that mimic the learned behavior.2Children exposed to domestic violence require a safe nurturing environment and the space and respect to progress at their own pace. The caretaker should provide reassurance and an increased sense of security by providing explanations and comfort for the things that worry the children, like loud noises.9 The children should develop and maintain positive contact with significant others such as distant family members.9 All family members are encouraged to become involved in community organizations designed to assist families in domestic violence situations. HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citation_needed” o “Wikipedia:Citation needed” citation needed
Effects on infants and toddlers HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children&action=edit§ion=16” o “Edit section: Effects on infants and toddlers” edit
Children exposed to domestic violence at infancy often experience an inability to bond and form secure attachments, often resulting in intensified startle reactions and an inhibited sense of exploration and play.9Children may portray a wide range of reactions to the exposure of domestic violence in their home. The preschool and kindergarten child does not understand the meaning of the abuse and may believe they did something wrong, this self-blame may cause the child feelings of guilt, worry, and anxiety.18 Younger children do not have the ability to express their feelings verbally and these emotions can cause behavioral problems. They may become withdrawn, non-verbal, and have regressed behaviors such as clinging and whining. Other common behaviors for a child being a victim of domestic violence are eating and sleeping difficulty, and concentration problems.19Preschoolers living with violence internalize the learned gender roles associated with victimization, for instance seeing males as perpetrators and females as victims.9 This symptom presents itself as the preschooler imitating learned behaviors of intimidation and abuse. The preschooler may present with aggressive behavior, lashing out, defensive behavior, or extreme separation anxiety from the primary caregiver.20Statistics show that a child who witnesses violence between their parents or guardian is more likely to carry on violent behaviors in their own adult lives. “Even when child witnesses do not suffer physical injury, the emotional consequences of viewing or hearing violent acts are severe and long-lasting. In fact, children who witness violence often experience many of the same symptoms and lasting effects as children who are victims of violence themselves, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”. Also in the article Breaking the Cycle of Violence “it is clearly in the best interest of the child and criminal justice system to handle child victims and witnesses in the most effective and sensitive manner possible. A number of studies have found the following: reducing the number of interviews of children can minimize psychological harm to child victims (Tedesco & Schnell, 1987); testifying is not necessarily harmful to children if adequate preparation is conducted (Goodman et al., 1992; Oates et al., 1995; Whitcomb, Goodman, Runyon, and Hoak, 1994); and, having a trusted person help the child prepare for court and be with the child when he or she testified reduced the anxiety of the child (Henry, 1997).21Effects on witnessing infants HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children;action=edit;section=17” o “Edit section: Effects on witnessing infants” edit
Cries excessively, screaming
Failure to thrive
Feeding and sleeping routines are disrupted
Irritability, sadness, anxiety
Need for attachment is disrupted
Startles easily22Effects on witnessing toddlers HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children;action=edit;section=18” o “Edit section: Effects on witnessing toddlers” edit
Insomnia/parasomniasLack feelings of safety
Dual exposure HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children;action=edit;section=19” o “Edit section: Dual exposure” edit
It is important to note that children exposed to domestic violence are more at risk for other forms of maltreatment such as physical abuse and neglect. Research suggests that parents who are violent with one another are at higher risk for physically abusing their children.23 Recent research has proposed that the consequences of child abuse and domestic violence exposure are often similar and mimic one another. Children who are abused and exposed to domestic violence exhibit emotional, psychological, and behavioral consequences that are almost identical to one another. In fact, some researchers refers to this dual exposure as the “double whammy” effect because children are receive double exposure to traumatic events and thus react twofold to the abuse and exposure to domestic violence. Emotionally children who experience the “double whammy” effect can exhibit fear, guilt, isolation, and low self-esteem. Additional psychological outcomes for these children include depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).24Children who experience dual exposure to both physical abuse and domestic violence possess more behavioral problems than those who experience only one or the other.25The long-term effects of dual exposure in young children can have very negative outcomes later in life. These outcomes have been documented as leading to behavioral problems that include school dropout, violence, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, eating disorders, and even suicide attempts.24 A study following children from preschool through adolescence found that young children exposed to domestic violence and child abuse were more likely to experience anti-social behaviors in their adolescence. Young children exposed to both domestic violence and child abuse were also more likely to commit an assault and participate in delinquent behavior in their adolescence than those not exposed at all.25 Lastly, the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE) found a connection between multiple categories of childhood trauma (e.g., child abuse, household dysfunction including domestic violence, and child neglect) and health/behavioral outcomes later in life. The more traumas a child was exposed to, the greater risk for disabilities, social problems and adverse health outcomes. More recently, researchers have used elements of this model to continue analysis into different aspects of trauma and stressful experiences and later development.26Ways to help HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children;action=edit;section=20” o “Edit section: Ways to help” edit
Early intervention is one of the best ways to counteract the effects of witnessing abuse. Ways to help children who have witnessed domestic abuse include:citation needed
Arrange school age children to receive counseling from professionals at their school, often school counselors.
Experiment with various types of counseling: play therapy, peer support groups, anger management classes and safety programs to teach kids how to extract themselves from dangerous situations.
Help children find a loving and supportive adult to introduce to the child and encourage the child to spend as much time regularly with the adult. This may include a trusted family member or community advocate. Family Violence Defense Fund reports that the single most important ingredient to help children heal and develop resiliency is the presence of a loving adult.
Provide a safe environment that does not include violence in any form after a child has witnessed domestic violence.
Find ways to discipline that do not involve hitting, name-calling, yelling, or any form of verbally aggressive behavior.
Help children create a sense of safety by having scheduled routines, such as regular meals and homework times.