By Erin Kennedy, ChildFund Director of Advocacy
I can’t stop thinking about something I heard at one of the side events in the run-up to the recent 2015 United Nations Summit, in which the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted: “There are millions of girls who grow up around the world expecting to be beaten by their husbands because they saw their mothers being beaten.”
This statement, by Susan Bissell, who’s heading up the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, made my own two little girls spring to mind. What will they expect? I wondered. Certainly not that. Thankfully, not that.
My girls, of course, expect all their needs to be met. They expect Mommy and Daddy to love them, respect each other, feed them, care for them when they’re sick, keep them safe. The 3-year-old, my sunshine climber, and her 2-year-old sister, my feisty hugger — both expect to be queens of all they survey. And that’s as it should be. (Within reason.)
But what if they’d been born into a community where they watched their mother experience endless physical and emotional violence and grew up thinking that was just the way things were? What if they grew up afraid to go to school because of the dangers along the way? What if they had to leave school to work in pesticide-laden fields or dangerous mines — or marry someone at age 12?
That’s not what I want for them. Oh, no.
But for too many girls worldwide — boys, too — these are the exactly the kinds of things they can expect as they grow up. For them, it starts early: About 60 percent of children ages 2-14 experience physical punishment from their caregivers. More than 120 million girls have experienced sexual violence. Some 85 million children are trapped in hazardous work.
However, we know that moms and dads around the world want more for their children. We all do, not just in the richer countries.
So we should all be able to agree that it is time to give all children a chance to fulfill their dreams instead of having them derailed by violence. And now, more than ever, we have a chance to make that possible.
We celebrate the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s newest statement of what it wants for itself. And we celebrate the inclusion of violence against children as a priority throughout that statement. That’s a great first step.
But for this world to achieve a future in which children are free from violence and exploitation, we must step forward together — governments, communities, families and, especially, children — toward that future. We need to roll up our sleeves and take this high-level, political commitment embodied in the SDGs and turn it into more than a document gathering dust on the shelves of the U.N. — we must transform it into concrete commitments enacted for children around the globe. Word into deed.
How? The more important question is who. The answer is all of us.
Governments, the United Nations and civil society must take decisive actions and make real investments in protecting children: stronger laws and policies and well-supported systems and services that are funded and targeted. This will make it more possible for communities to do the work of transforming themselves into environments structured around children’s well-being. With stronger safety nets, families can more easily make choices based on love rather than desperation. Children, freed to have safe childhoods, can live at their potential and contribute in their unique ways.
We also need to recognize that, despite all, children already do contribute. Listening to them is a great place to begin this important work.
ChildFund Alliance (including its U.S. member, ChildFund International) has spent the last several years doing exactly that, consulting with more than 16,000 children in 50 countries. In this extensive research into children’s primary concerns, the idea that bubbled up to the top was prevention of violence. It also came clear how strongly children are invested in being part of the solution.
Children know what they want for themselves. We must act before the world beats this vision out of them, before yet another generation’s potential is lost to the world, slipping into a renewed cycle of poverty and inequality.
What does the world really want for its children?
I know what I want for my own, and that I’ll do everything to make it happen.
The world should do no less.