Sometimes, it’s two countries armed to the teeth at loggerheads amid terrorist attacks and gun violence. Other times, domestic aggression and public outrage in heated protests are more like it. There’s no doubt that the turbulence and unsettling matters that befuddle the social space seem to be in a constant state of flux such that there’s almost always a daily dose of unpleasant developments splattered all over the front pages of tabloids.
Of course, as the cliché goes, bad news sells. But, while these go on, little or no thought is often given to the vulnerable and relatively helpless when matters regarding the mental and physical safety of children, who are often caught in the crossfire of aggression, come to the fore.
One of the most recent studies conducted on children, both at home and in the diaspora, showed that about three of every four children have been victims of violence each year in a finding that translates to nearly 75 percent of children around the globe being on the receiving end of this developmental crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 1 billion children under the ages of 2–17 have experienced a form of violence be it physical, sexual, emotional violence, aggression, or neglect in over the past year. Aggression could be in the form of maltreatment, bullying, youth violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence or emotional.
What’s worse? Not only are many children not protected from the aftermaths of these chaotic happenings, especially in Africa where little attention is often given to matters pertaining to mental health. Some are used deliberately in the perpetration of some of these evils. Cases of children being mobilized to fight in violence-torn regions are not far-fetched. Others are trafficked and made to engage in hard labour that would break even an adult. They are violently taken out of their homes, away from the comfort and care of their parents, and mobilized for fights they have no business in.
Lots of children who should be in school and off the streets have been forced to grow up too early and face untoward hardship even when a handful of them should still be suckling the bosoms of their mothers. The minds of children are delicate and raw; they are like blank pages to which indelible words are etched. Yet, these innocent and vulnerable juveniles are being filled with violence before they’ve had a chance to grow. Their thoughts about the world and themselves are already being shaped in the worst kind of way. The majority grow up thinking the world is such a cruel, cruel place. Can we blame them? They’re not wrong anyway. But despite the thick darkness the world is in, there is light — we only need to find it. Who’ll shoulder this task?
Children are not only being violated in society; even their homes which we would have expected to provide them protection and comfort sometimes provide anything but that. Intentionally and or otherwise, children bear the brunt of domestic violence at home — from parents getting a divorce to sexual assaults by trusted adults. And the children, in their innocence, tend to think it is their fault; they believe they deserve it. They think, “I made daddy angry, that’s why he hit me” when truth is that dad was drunk.
They believe their parents’ getting a divorce was because of something they did or that they were no longer loveable. Many of them grow up feeling inadequate, with extremely low self-esteem, and a damaged sense of self-worth.
While we may not be able to control the extent of violence and aggression in the world, we sure can protect our young ones from it. And we should protect them from it, lest the leaders of tomorrow become no better than the leaders of today, if not even worse. We should help our children grow as normally as possible.
They shouldn’t only be told but also made to believe through everyday actions that they don’t have to be sucked into the world’s craziness. Whatever it takes, we must help them grow above the violence they see. If possible, we should take them away from it. But, how about those who are already caught up in the conflict and whose lives have already been decided for them? We can only hope for a miracle.
By Blessing Abayomi