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Children and the Geography of Violence why space and place matter

Evictions, Kathmandu, Nepal; The Guardian, May 8 2012.


Table of contents Introduction .............................................................................................................................................. 3 Some background .................................................................................................................................... 7 What research is available? .................................................................................................................................... 7 Violence, poverty and disparities .......................................................................................................................... 9 Stress and the environment...................................................................................................................................10 How children’s development is related to the physical environment ................................................11 The implications of exposure to violence and abusive treatment for children .............................14 Violence at Home .................................................................................................................................. 17 The prevalence of child abuse and maltreatment ......................................................................................17 The physical ecology of child abuse...................................................................................................................19 Children who are at higher risk ..........................................................................................................................21 Housing conditions and child maltreatment ................................................................................................22 Housing security .........................................................................................................................................................24 Neglect and material conditions.........................................................................................................................25 Sibling violence ...........................................................................................................................................................28 Sexual abuse of children .........................................................................................................................................29 Children in residential care ...................................................................................................................................30 Domestic violence against women .....................................................................................................................30 How the home environment can contribute to domestic violence ......................................................32 How domestic violence can contribute to housing problems ................................................................34 Housing and property as a deterrent to domestic violence ...................................................................35 Violence in Neighborhood Space .................................................................................................... 37 Neighbourhood tensions and social capital ..................................................................................................39 Stressful environments and mental fatigue ...................................................................................................41 Local levels of provision as a safety concern .................................................................................................42 Hot spots and environmental design factors ................................................................................................48 Spatial segregation ...................................................................................................................................................51 The impact of violent neighborhoods for children’s opportunities ....................................................54 Schools ............................................................................................................................................................................59 Violence at work .........................................................................................................................................................62 Losing home and neighbourhood ................................................................................................... 63 Children on the street...............................................................................................................................................63 Migration and trafficking ......................................................................................................................................65 Forced displacement.................................................................................................................................................67 Responses to violence in the context of the physical environment ................................... 74 Problems with traditional models for child protection ............................................................................74 Expanding the focus..................................................................................................................................................76 Partnerships, participation and community-driven development .....................................................79 Housing and housing security ..............................................................................................................................81 Neighbourhood and common space ..................................................................................................................85 Protective measures in disaster and emergency situations ...................................................................97 Conclusion ............................................................................................................................................... 99 References............................................................................................................................................. 102


Children and the Geography of Pain

Introduction The presence of violence in the world appears to be an intractable problem, a rising tide with incalculable costs. Social theorist Arjun Appadurai argues that the displacements and uncertainties surrounding globalization in recent decades have fuelled a worldwide growth in violence, a catalogue of barbarity from the most personal to the most abstract, from local grudge fests to large scale ethnic cleansing.1 Perspectives can differ however. Steven Pinker, psychologist and popular science writer, claims that violence has declined over human history and even within recent times.2 He acknowledges the horrors that are a routine part of our daily news, but maintains that our very awareness of the problem indicates a growing rejection of violence as a default reality. Brutalities that were taken for granted in earlier times are now exposed and debated. Not that long ago, domestic violence was dismissed as no-one else’s business even in socially progressive nations. Genocidal despots could retire with no fear of reprisals. But we are paying more attention now. Violence has become widely viewed as a public health issue, a phenomenon responsive to treatment and prevention.3 The UN system has risen to the challenge with multiple high level reports and calls to action – on violence against children, violence and health, violence in schools, conflict-related sexual violence, armed conflict and children.4 Much of this concern revolves around the implications for children. There are still people who believe that young children forget the disturbing things they see and experience. Some argue that physical force is an acceptable, perhaps even necessary, part of proper discipline. But the weight has shifted. There is growing recognition of the deep and lasting harm that can be done. One expression of this changing awareness is the volume of research geared toward a better understanding of the impact of violence in children’s lives. We know now that a one-year old’s exposure to repeated abuse may be forgotten in narrative terms. But it is remembered at a chromosomal level and in the wiring of that child’s brain. In recent years we have also moved away from a narrow fixation on the acts of individual perpetrators and toward a recognition of the social ecology of violence. We acknowledge that drunken abusive parents were probably abused themselves; that gang violence stems 1

Appadurai 2006 Pinker 2011 3 Dahlberg and Mercy 2009 4 See UN Secretary General 2012; SRSG on Violence Against Children 2012; Pinheiro 2006; WHO 2002; Machel 1996 2


from frustration and a need for belonging; that ethnic cleansing has a history and an economy. This report expands on this more contextual perspective by including a consideration of the physical environment. Focused primarily on the global South, it explores how the material and spatial dimensions of life are related to violence as it affects young children under eight and those around them. I argue here that it is impossible to understand or respond adequately to violence without considering how embedded it is in material realities. We need parameters for this discussion. Violence, first of all, needs to be defined. This sounds simple, but it raises a lot of questions. How extreme must an aggressive act be to qualify as violence? How personal? How intentional? Must there be immediate suffering as an outcome? Is fear part of the concern? Is violence an act or can it be inherent in a condition? The World Health Organization defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in, injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”5 This definition goes beyond the personal, beyond immediate harm, beyond the infliction of physical suffering. Threat is part of violence, and with it comes fear. Deprivation can be an outcome along with injury, death and psychological harm. This definition provides a flexible framework that accommodates a concern with the physical environment. What about neglect? How completely does the notion of violence (as inflicted) overlap with suffering (as experienced)? Is there a distinction between beating a child and tying her to a bedpost all day to ensure she doesn’t fall into the fire while her mother plants maize? What about the purposeful neglect of the Brazilian mothers described by Nancy Scheper-Hughes who deny food to infants who are unlikely to survive anyway? The “little angels”, clearly marked by God, are put in a corner to die while their mothers pray that death comes quickly.6 What of the less explicit practice by which two small girls in Nepal share a bowl of rice while their brother gets one to himself ? The WHO definition expands on more conventional understandings of violence and would include such harmful acts of omission by those with the power to decide. Do we also include here the omissions and neglect of authorities? Anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli, writing of the official neglect of Australia’s indigenous people, calls into question the distinction between “making die” and “letting die”.7 The WHO’s broad definition of violence should logically cover the purposeful actions and non-actions of offialdom. The use of force to effect an eviction is without doubt an act of violence, frequently accompanied by injury and death. But evictions that do not involve bullhorns and bulldozers can still mean the forced displacement of communities with the varieties of suffering that follow. It’s a small distance from that to an official refusal to acknowledge a squatter settlement or to allow its residents access to the essentials for survival and a decent life. The power not to act is surely equivalent to the active use of


WHO 2002 Scheper-Hughes 1992 7 Povinelli 2011 6


force when equivalent harm results, or even when the assault is on dignity and personhood.8 Povinelli retells Ursula LaGuin’s fable of the child in the broom closet. In the city of Omelas, everyone is happy, their needs fulfilled. But their contentment depends on the imprisonment of a small child in a dark closet in some basement in the city. The child is fed occasionally, beaten occasionally, but mostly left in the dark, afraid, sitting in its own excrement. The citizens of Omelas know about this. Many come to peer in at the child, and are shocked by what they see. Some leave the city, unable to accommodate to the price of their happiness. But most come to accept it. They explain the situation to their children in terms they feel they can understand. One way to talk about children and violence is to look at the behaviour of the people who beat this child. In the context of this discussion of the material world, the broom closet itself might be of particular interest – the way that its darkness and isolation intensify the child’s suffering; perhaps also the degree to which imprisonment in that tiny space, in the dark, in her own excrement, renders the child less than human, an “other” who becomes for that reason an acceptable target for abuse. But it’s not really possible to think about this child’s misery just in terms of those who torment her. There are all the other happy citizens who allow it to happen. Structural violence – the poverty, exclusion and suffering inherent in the accepted order of things – is not just an abstraction even in the more complex real world. Poverty, Gandhi said, is the worst form of violence. The humiliations intrinsic to this state, to the “letting die” that is part of that accepted order, translate inevitably into other more explicit forms of violence, public and private. Might the child in the broom closet ever turn on her tormenters? If she had a companion, a small dog maybe, would she soothe it or scratch its eyes out? For the purpose of this discussion, I will draw a porous boundary around acts that cause suffering to small children, with more rather than less attention to the explicit, the active, the personal – but with the constant reminder that more ambient violence takes a heavy toll and can be experienced in personal ways; and with an insistence that we not overlook the routine misery for young children that results from the deprivation, frustration, humiliation of their families and neighbours. In considering responses to violence and neglect we need to be alert to policies and practices that censure the ways families live their lives and treat their children, while neatly ignoring the underlying factors that structure those lives and actions. This investigation also requires a definition of the physical environment. This is less complicated by shades of meaning but is burdened by a generally lower level of recognition. It is oddly difficult to persuade people of the significance of the material world as it relates to young children. The “environments” of childhood are most often understood to mean the social interactions that are so critical to a child’s development.


Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois 2004


Our physical surroundings are so taken for granted in this context that we overlook their profound impact. What I am talking about here is the materiality of life – where our bodies take shelter, what they lie on, where they clean themselves, how they are heated or cooled, the means by which they move from place to place, the distances they are required to move, the boundaries, real or symbolic, that define where they may or may not go, what they can or cannot gain access to. The realities of crowding and privacy, of roofs and pavements, trees and tables, excrement and smoky air, comfort and convenience, are fundamental to our existence, to our sense of ourselves and our own worth, to our levels of energy and exhaustion, our capacity to enjoy and endure, our ability to engage, cooperate, love and learn. “The cues from place,” says psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove, “dive under conscious thought and awaken our sinews and bones, where days of our lives have been recorded.”9 A concern with the physical environment is not just a footnote to a larger concern with violence. It is a more encompassing way of considering the problem, taking into account its more general ecology and the range of ways it can be experienced. In the equation that includes children, violence and the physical environment, connections radiate in many directions. Material conditions can contribute to the likelihood of violence, and most often this relationship is mediated by stress. Overcrowding, for instance, can lead a parent to respond more harshly to a small child who is always underfoot.10 Heat waves can have social impacts, contributing to unrest and even riots where poor housing and high density make occupants most vulnerable to the stress of heat.11 Causality also moves in the other direction. Violence can be experienced through its effect on the physical surroundings. When neighbourhoods are plagued by crime and insecurity, children’s mobility and the opportunities available to them shrink dramatically. War, eviction, displacement can mean a critical deterioration in living conditions, and the chronic everyday hardships that result may in the long run far outweigh the initial violence in the toll they take. This can all be conceptualized in terms of cause and effect, whatever the direction, but it is more productive just to see material conditions as the ground of our existence, inescapably bound up in causes and effects, problems and solutions. Framing things this broadly may seem unproductive. We are interested here in ways to address violence as it affects young children. When the intention is to solve a practical problem, why expand the definition of the problem rather than refining it? This expansion can in fact greatly widen the scope of opportunity for practical action. By going beyond a narrow view of violence we can consider more complex responses that come closer to shifting the intricate constellation of circumstances that is in play. The relations of power that govern the world, whether within a household or within a wider society, also define where violence occurs. Recognizing the nexus of power, violence and the control of space and place is a critical starting point.


Fullilove 2005 p 10 McLoyd 1990 11 McGregor et al 2007 10


Some background What research is available? The available literature on this particular constellation of factors – young children, violence, the material world – is quite thin, particularly from the global South. Work on children and violence (ignoring for the moment the physical environment component) is overwhelmingly from the global North, and especially from the United States, where this research has focused primarily on family violence, exposure to community violence especially in crime-ridden inner city areas, and exposure to violent media. Within low-income countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America there is a wider range of risk factors than those generally addressed in Northern research – more extensive and deeper poverty, the failure of public security systems to offer protection, increasing numbers of disasters large and small, higher rates of violent conflict and long term displacement. In much of the world, child protection systems are also seriously under-resourced or even non-existent, often an effect of the restricted social spending that accompanies national debt.12 The lack of resources for both child protection systems and research combines with the higher prevalence of competing problems, such as disease and malnutrition, which tend to take precedence. Where there is research on violence as it affects children, it frequently focuses on problems that are studied in the North, rather than contributing to an overview of the complexity in low-income countries. A good example is research on disaster and conflictrelated protection, which has focused heavily on the prevalence of trauma related to specific events, rather than on the challenges that accompany the day-to-day hardships surrounding conflict or disaster and the seriously under-resourced recovery process.13 Our knowledge of violence as it affects children in the South, then, remains sparse and uneven. Another challenge is the scarcity of research looking specifically at violence as it affects very young children, the focus of interest for this review. What limited research there is from the global South is disproportionately concerned with older children and youth. The same imbalance happens to be reflected in the child protection programmes carried out by international organizations. In a global review of community-based protection programmes supported by aid agencies, Mike Wessels found that only one of 160 addressed the needs of children under eight years of age.14 This gap in research and practice is most likely related to the mistaken impression that very young children are less deeply affected by violence. They are also considered more difficult to access as subjects of research.15 The emphasis over recent decades on participatory research with children has also led to a more common focus on children over eight or ten (although 12

Lachman et al 2002 Batniji, van Ommeren and Saraceno 2006; Jones, L 2008 14 Wessels 2009 15 Akesson 2011 13


there is plenty of evidence that younger children can also be excellent informants about their own experiences.)

The general dearth of relevant research in the South extends to work on the impact of material living conditions on small children. What work there is has been primarily focused on health impacts; but even here, people can be exceptionally tone deaf. When two-year-olds suffer high rates of death and diarrhoea in settlements without clean water or sanitation, for instance, the response is often to address the hygiene practices of their mothers rather than the deficits in the environment that make good hygiene almost impossible to achieve.16 What we find in the research literature depends on what questions are being asked. When physical environment variables are not included in the universe of concern, it stands to reason that connections will not be found. This in turn affects practical responses and further research. There are some promising recent exceptions to the absence of useful literature. The 2013 Spring issue of Children, Youth and Environments focuses specifically on the relationship of violence to the physical environments of children and young people, drawing on evidence from both the North and the South.17 And the summer 2012 issue of Development in Practice covers violence and child protection as central concerns for successful international development. The papers in this volume, many of them drawn from the well known Young Lives research in four countries, all make the case for grounded, contextualized, community-based responses to a wide range of risks that leave children vulnerable.18 Both of these special issues have provided valuable material for this review. Despite this recent mini-spike of relevant research, much of this discussion has had to be framed in terms of research from the United States and other high-income countries. Wherever possible, that research has been used as a context and point of departure for evidence drawn from the global South. Often this has meant extrapolating from research that does not focus specifically on children, or building a case from several related pieces of work, including grey literature. It has also meant turning to undocumented experiences and personal communications. This review, then, is by no means restricted to peerreviewed studies. Taking that route might have resulted in more academically respectable conclusions, but it would also have been a much thinner account. Also, despite the primary focus of this paper on children under eight, much of this discussion will focus on research involving older children, not only because it is easier to find, but because an understanding of what is going on for their elder siblings is also relevant if we want to understand the situation for young children. What happens to their siblings and even their older neighbours is what they see, what they hear about, what they look forward to, how they define themselves and understand their options.

17 18

Children, Youth and Environments 23 (1) Development in Practice, 22 (4)


The paper is organized to look at violence first in the context of the home environment, then within neighbourhood space, and finally in the world beyond the immediate neighbourhood. But before discussing the patchwork of evidence that sheds light on the links between violence and the material world at these different scales, it makes sense to provide some background on themes that emerge repeatedly. One of these is the connection between violence and poverty. The concept of stress is also basic, since it mediates this violence-poverty link in so many situations. Another area that calls for an introduction, even for those familiar with the basic principles of developmental psychology, is the relationship of the physical environment to young children’s development, an aspect that is commonly overlooked. I will also provide a brief synopsis of what we know about the outcomes of violence for children’s well-being and development. This background material and the more central discussion of violence at different scales is followed by a section on responses that are relevant to a more materially and spatially-oriented perspective on the concerns around violence for young children. Violence, poverty and disparities Violence at every scale has been tied to levels of poverty and inequality. The numbers indicate that family violence is most common among low-income groups; that community violence occurs most often in poor neighborhoods, and that countries with lower per capita income and higher levels of disparity have higher homicide rates, more episodes of violent conflict and possibly higher rates of child abuse.19 These numbers can contribute to naive assumptions about the dysfunctional, abusive or aggressive nature of those in poverty. The mistreatment of children does not occur exclusively among poorer groups; nor do most people in poverty abuse their children. But there is, and has been for many years, strong, consistent evidence of the disproportionate prevalence of child abuse and neglect among low-income groups, both in high and low-income countries.20 Where there are formal systems for reporting child abuse, a labeling bias may come into play. In the United States, for example, there is evidence that children from low income families coming into emergency rooms are more likely to be considered victims of abuse, while those from more affluent families are often assumed to have had an ‘accident’. But even research based on self-report measures has found rates of violence to be higher among the poorest households. 21 Relative poverty appears to be associated with higher rates of maltreatment in specific circumstances – in the United States for example, younger parents dealing with younger children are at elevated risk, as well as those without social support networks.22 Aspects of poverty related to higher stress levels are also more strongly associated with neglect or abuse. One study found, for instance, that parents’ perception of economic hardship were 19

WHO 2009; Akmatov 2010 Farinatti et al 1990; Slack et al 2004; Freisthler et al 2006 21 Gelles 1992 22 Gelles 1992 20


more important than actual household income.23 Poverty and inequality in themselves are detrimental in all kinds of ways for children and families. But there are generally mediating factors that explain their association with maltreatment. These are related to higher levels of stress and lower levels of support, whether in terms of services and resources or the presence of social capital, which can be sorely eroded in situations of scarcity, inequity and insecurity. The same connections hold true at neighbourhood level. It is widely accepted that it is not poverty per se, but inequalities and relative deprivation that fuel stress and frustration and precipitate higher rates of community violence and insecurity.24 The inherently stressful nature of exclusion and low social status has been documented for many years in a number of studies.25 Its relationship to violence has also been spelled out in various analyses, not only at the community level but within societies at large.26 Stress and the environment Stress plays a fundamental mediating role in this relationship between violence and inequality. The capacity of the human system to maintain stability is essential to survival. This stability can be threatened by various challenges – an infection, a dangerous situation, an emotional trauma, an overload of noise. To maintain stability, the body shifts its priorities and activates various responses – blood pressure and heart rate surge, stress hormones are released. These responses become inactive when the stressful situation is resolved. But when stress is chronic, the system may be continually taxed. Long term or repeated stress results in constant wear and tear, which increases vulnerability and affects both physical and mental health. 27 A considerable body of research has related stress to such environmental conditions as noise, crowding and high temperatures for a number of years now. 28 The classic contribution of Evans and Cohen in 1987 emphasized not only the stressful potential of environmental features, but also their additive and even multiplicative effects.29 Difficult living conditions can amplify other social stressors. In the context of low and middleincome countries, the research emphasis has been on crowding as a source of stress. However it is clear that hundreds of millions of people in the world live in conditions that present multiple sources of stress. Research in three communities in India, for instance, found a significant relationship between the intensity of environmental stressors and the degree of stress experienced by residents. Garbage, traffic and crowding were the most significant stressors, followed by noise and air pollution. Three coping strategies were identified: helplessness, acceptance 23

Slack et al 2004 Krug et al 2002 25 See for instance Marmot 2004, Wilkinson and Pickett 2009 26 Wilkinson 2004 27 McEwen 1998, Wilkinson 2004 28 see for instance Ising and Prasher 2000; Fuller et al 1996; Anderson 1989 29 Evans and Cohen 1987 24


and problem solving. The latter was least common, indicating the extent to which people felt these problems were beyond their control.30 A review of other research looking more generally at the association of poverty and mental illness in low and middle-income countries finds weak evidence to support the link between mental disorders and income levels; instead it was the experience of insecurity and hopelessness that predicted the vulnerability of the poor to mental disorders.31

Gelles and colleagues, looking at the association between stress, poverty and the maltreatment of children, found a direct connection between the accumulation of stressful life events and severe violence.32 Noting that more affluent families use their resources to lessen the burden of stressful events, this research suggests that the capacity to manage stress is key. A sense of control over one’s life is fundamental to psychological health,33 and one facet of poverty is the relative lack of control that accompanies it. How children’s development is related to the physical environment For many decades now there has been a clear recognition of the ecological nature of children’s development. The way children grow and change is related to a complex constellation of factors, both genetic and environmental, biological and social. Bronfenbrenner’s classic model34 of the child at the center of a nested hierarchy of influences provides a graphic representation of these interconnected layers (Figure 1). 30

Siddiqui andPandey 2003 Patel and Kleinman 2003 32 Gelles 1992 33 Allow and Abramson 1982 34 Bronfenbrenner 1979 31


Figure 1: The ecology of children’s development

But even in the context of this ecological perspective, there is surprisingly little attention in developmental literature to the material and spatial side of life. When the “environment” is referred to, this is most often taken to mean the social environment.35 There is a strong body of research and discussion around the contribution of the physical environment, but it is not central to our understanding of children. In the context of this discussion of violence, there are three dimensions of the relationship between children and their physical surroundings that are of particular interest – the emotional security that the material world can provide for a child; the opportunities it provides for play and learning; and the level of stress it can impose on children and those around them. Emotional security and place It is well established that children require secure, nurturing responsive relationships with at least one important person in their lives, and ideally more than one. The quality of the attachment that develops as part of this relationship has long been recognized as fundamental to a child’s social and emotional development, a defining touchstone that affects how subsequent relationships are approached.36 The importance of children’s attachment to place is much less commonly discussed, but it is familiar to any parent. Louise Chawla argues that while predictable, secure human relationships are paramount, a stable physical base is also part of a child’s security and sense of self. It can be especially important when relationships with other people are not that dependable.37 Familiar routines are anchored in this home base and are a source of comfort and refuge. A child becomes deeply embedded in place. When the relationship to familiar surroundings is disrupted, however modest or inadequate the dwelling, this can be deeply 35

for example, Shonkoff and Phillips 2000 Bowlby, J 1969 37 Chawla 1992; see also Jack 2010 36


unsettling. Violence can upend this relationship in a number of ways. Repeated abuse can turn homes into places of fear rather than refuge; forced evictions and displacement can ravage a child’s confidence in the world even if family relationships remain intact. Where the threat of violence is a default reality, children’s very concept of the places they are attached to is shaped in terms of conflicted meanings. Opportunity and interaction in an expanding world “Healthy place attachments,” Chawla says, “balance the inward hold of an intimate familiar center with the outward attractions of an expanding world.”38 Those “outward attractions” are the second piece of this relationship with the material world. Children’s interaction through play with that “expanding world” is fundamental to the development of their own expanding minds and bodies. This has been stressed by Piaget, Montessori and many other developmental theorists.39 Much of children’s time and energy, especially in the early years, is spent exploring and manipulating the objects and places around them, driven by their curiosity and desire for competence. Play is not just random activity. It is fundamental to becoming a capable human being. It provides children with the chance to be creative, to solve problems, to overcome challenges, to negotiate and cooperate with others.40 But children need a place to play, and this interaction with the world depends on the diversity and stimulation of the available opportunities. The concept of “affordances” is helpful here.41 This refers to the range of activities that a particular place or object allows. A stool, for instance, is not just a place to sit. It is also something to climb on, jump off, crawl under, turn over. A puddle is something to wade through, a place to splash, a reflective surface that can be broken by a dropped pebble. All these activities provide a child with a sense of her own ability to make something happen. The more responsive affordances there are in a child’s environment, the more likely she is to have the selection of challenges and opportunities that fit her needs at a particular time. A oneyear-old will walk up and down the same three steps over and over again with intense concentration until that experience is fully conquered and absorbed, and then she will want to move on to something else. As children grow older, opportunities need to expand. In the 1980s, anthropologists Beatrice Whiting and Carolyn Edwards argued that children’s socialization depends on the range of physical settings available to them as part of their daily lives.42 Roger Barker, an early pioneer of an ecological understanding of children’s development, referred to these as “behaviour settings”.43 A market place, a football field, a temple, a workshop where a neighbour mends bicycles, the water point where women do laundry, all imply particular routines and activities and have different requirements for engagement. The diversity of children’s surroundings is important, but so is their access to this diversity. In situations of violence, mobility and the range of possibilities can 38

Chawla 1992 p 66 Piaget 1952; Montessori 1965 41 Gibson 1982 41 Gibson 1982 42 Whiting and Edwards 1988 43 Barker 1968 39


become very limited. Children may instead spend hours a day indoors, isolated from other children and from the life of their neighborhoods. The presence of violence in the surroundings can also limit their motivation and curiosity; their heightened vigilance may affect the quality of attention that they bring to bear on what is available. The environment as a source of stress for children The local environment can offer refuge and stimulation; but can also be a potent source of stress. This is especially the case for those in poverty. Environmental psychologist Gary Evans has spent his career contributing to our understanding of the links between poverty and stress for children. Stress, he explains, may predispose adults towards more punitive, less responsive behaviour towards children. But it can also have profound direct effects on a developing child, causing significant changes in the chemistry of the brain and body which have implications for health and development over the long term. According to Evans and colleagues, “The physical form is well documented; poor children are exposed to substandard environmental conditions including toxins, hazardous waste, ambient air and water pollution, noise, crowding, poor housing, poorly maintained school buildings, residential turnover, traffic congestion, poor neighborhood sanitation and maintenance, and crime. The psychosocial form is also well documented; poor children experience significantly higher levels of family turmoil, family separation, violence, and significantly lower levels of structure and routine in their daily lives.” 44 Children’s well being is often discussed in terms of risk factors and protective factors, and the importance of “cumulative risk” is well established in understanding their response to adversity. The likelihood of poor developmental outcomes increases in more than linear fashion with a greater number of risk factors.45 Being born into poverty means a greater accumulation of risk exposure, resulting in higher levels of the chronic and toxic stress that leads to physical and cognitive deficits and that sabotages children’s capacity to thrive in the face of hardship. Children living in the stressful environments of poverty are not only more likely to be exposed to violent treatment; they may also be less well equipped to cope with the demands that violence makes on their overtaxed systems. They are placed in effect in double jeopardy. The implications of exposure to violence and abusive treatment for children What does it cost a young child to experience violence, fear and neglect? The expansion of research not only in the social sciences but in neurobiology and related fields has resulted in a much more comprehensive understanding of the implications, both short and long term. Evans and his colleagues make it clear that stress can have toxic effects, and violence is certainly among the more severe sources of stress. Neurobiological responses (like vigilance and hyperarousal) that may be adaptive in the short term can impose critical longer term costs.46 Research has repeatedly documented links between exposure to 44

Evans et al 2011 Evans and English 2002 46 Mead et al 2010 45


violence and later psychopathology, although the effects depend on the child’s age, the type of violence, the accumulation of risk and the number of protective factors at play.47 But there are also long term implications for health. Recent reports, for instance, demonstrate that cumulative early exposure to violence actually affects children’s chromosomes through increased telomere erosion, which is associated with cell death and later degenerative diseases.48 While the potential for exposure to violence is wider for older children, with their more extended worlds, violence can have the most severe implications for the youngest children, who are more likely to be injured or to die as a result. The psychological impacts can also be more extreme. Joy Osofsky points to the mistaken impression that because very young children do not understand what they see or experience, they are therefore less affected by it. In fact, she says, the lack of understanding leaves them at a disadvantage. They are less able to ask questions or understand responses, and they have fewer ways of organizing their experience and expressing their feelings. They may become irritable, fearful of being alone or exploring new things, unable to sleep and their development may begin to lag or to regress. 49 For children who are abusively treated, there can be a wide range of emotional and psychological consequences, including shame, guilt, fear, anxiety and depression, along with aggressive behavior and acting out. Attachment to others is often less secure, and children can be poor at conflict resolution.50 Longer term behavioural implications can include eating disorders, school drop-out, substance abuse, delinquency and aggression. The experience of violence can have long lasting consequences, leaving children at risk for a range of physical and mental problems later in life, and a far greater likelihood of violent behavior themselves. Witnessing violence towards others can have as extreme effects for children as being victims themselves. They may become anxious and withdrawn or more aggressive and less competent socially. School performance often suffers.51 Exposure to larger scale collective violence appears to have similar effects. Susan Walker and her colleagues, reviewing the literature, find evidence for less secure attachment and an increased risk of behaviour problems, including higher levels of aggression and an inability to regulate their emotions.52 Dubow proposes that exposure over time to ethnic and political violence may dispose children towards aggression as a way to deal with social conflicts.53 There appears to be no clear consensus on the extent to which exposure to violence outside the home intensifies the impact of home-based violence.54


Foster and Brooks-Gunn 2009 Shalev et al 2013 49 Osofsky and Fenichel 1994 50 Herrenkohl and Herrenkohl 2007 51 Margolin and Gordis 2000, Wolfe et al 2003 52 Walker et al 2011 53 Dubow, Huesmann and Boxer 2009 54 Foster and Brooks-Gunn 2009 48


Neglect can also take a serious toll. A lack of basic and protective care has obvious implications for health and well-being. But the absence of interaction and stimulation is also significant. Occasional inattention is not a problem and can even encourage children’s independence. But habitual understimulation can mean developmental delays, and extreme levels of psychosocial deprivation, like those experienced in some institutional settings or in the case of very depressed and withdrawn caregivers, can disrupt the development of the brain and result in a range of emotional, cognitive and behavioural disorders. 55 These negative outcomes, whether as a result of neglect, abuse or exposure to violence, are far from inevitable however. For example, although about a third of abused children have been found to become abusive adults (as opposed to 5 percent of the general population) the majority are not abusive towards others.56 Why are some children robust and flexible in the face of hardship while others suffer severe effects? There has been considerable speculation over the years on the subject of children’s “resilience”, whether in the face of violence or other adversities.57 Jo Boyden, among others, has begun to question the simple-minded use of this appealing concept in thinking about children’s responses to hardship. A focus on resilience can mean shifting attention away from risk to helping attenuate children's response to risk. It’s a short step from this to letting authorities off the hook: if some people can be resilient in the face of hardship, then why not all? It suggests that the problem must be in the victims, not in the circumstances. Boyden and colleagues point out that resilience is a complex phenomenon, subject to numerous moderating forces, and they suggest relinquishing this metaphor in favour of more nuanced consideration of the range of genetic, environmental and structural contingencies that come into play in an individual’s everyday life. 58 Some of the factors that appear to moderate the impact of abuse and neglect for children

include the duration of the violence, how chronic it is, how severe, and how personal the relationships involved. Children can also be buffered from long term negative outcomes by warm, stable, supportive relationships. Having a mother who is sensitive and responsive, for instance, can lessen the harmful effects of chronic stress in childhood.59 Of course, then the attention must be given to the numerous factors that make it difficult for mothers to be reliably sensitive and responsive. Little research has been found considering the extent to which physical environment factors buffer children from the negative effects of exposure to violence. But these factors can be extrapolated from much of the discussion that follows, and will be more fully discussed in the responses section.


National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2012 Margolin and Gordis 2000 57 See for example Fraser 2004, Boyden and Mann 2005 58 Boyden and Cooper 2009 59 Evans et al 2007 56


Violence at Home Home for young children is fundamental to their sense of security and can provide a source of refuge even when life is challenging. In the context of a violent world, home is assumed to be the safest place for children. But according to the 2006 United Nations Report on Children and Violence, home is where children most commonly experience violence.60 A recent study from Curitiba, Brazil, supports this assertion; over a period of 4 years, almost 90 percent of violent episodes against children were found to have happened at home.61 Child abuse and domestic violence go hand in hand much of the time. High rates of violence at home also often co-exist with high levels of community violence. Drawing on her research in El Salvador, Mo Hume makes the case that, in the context of community violence and attempts to deal with it, violence within households is often dismissed as a lesser concern and a private issue.62 The more hidden quality of domestic violence can add to its burden for children. For adolescents in Sao Paulo, violence at home was found to be three times more likely to result in mental health problems than more general community violence.63 It strikes at that more basic sense of identity and security; it is more personal and perhaps harder to avoid. In Nepal, even in the context of civil war, with abduction, injury and death as daily possibilities, children made it clear that they found their own drunken fathers more frightening than the shadowy Maoists in nearby forests.64 The prevalence of child abuse and maltreatment It is difficult to determine how common the abusive treatment of young children is. Definitions vary, and in most countries, child maltreatment rates are not recorded. People can also be reluctant to disclose abuse in surveys. But where there is information, rates are alarmingly high, as noted by the 2006 UN study. The most comprehensive collection of data on the topic has been UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), which in recent years has included an optional module on child discipline.65 A study based on these data on 2 to 14 year olds from 28 developing and transitional countries found the physical maltreatment of children to be common in all countries and most prevalent in Africa, where “moderate physical abuse” was reported to be experienced by 64 percent of children. Many of these children, 43 percent of the total sample, experienced more severe abuse.66


UN 2006 Apostólico et al 2012 62 Hume 2004 63 Paula, Vedovato, Bordin, Barros, D'Antino, Mercadante 2008 64 Save the Children USA 2007 65 Casillas 2011 66 Akmatov 2010 61


Another review of disciplinary practices in 6 countries (Egypt, Chile, Brazil, India, the Philippines and the USA) in 19 socio-economically varied communities, found that, while practices varied considerably from community to community, the median rate for the use of some form of harsh physical punishment was 39 percent.67 This is lower than the MICS number, but abuse here was more strictly defined to include beatings with a closed fist or with objects such as belts, sticks or canes, kicking, choking or burning; the use of shaking with children under two years of age was also included here as a category of abuse, since this can be so damaging for very young children. Abuse rates were much higher than the official rates for physical abuse in any of the countries that had published figures. There has been a widespread impression that the abusive treatment of children is primarily a problem in high income countries– perhaps, some suggest, because most of the research on the topic comes from the USA and Europe.68 Despite the absence of data in many countries, these surveys make it clear that this is not just a first world problem. Figures on physical abuse tend to go up where children are the source of information: in India, for example, of more than 12,000 children over 5 years of age, 69 percent reported physical abuse. Discrepancies like this in the estimates of parents and children are consistent across studies.69 Both the six country and the 28 country surveys found that rates of psychological abuse were even higher than physical abuse. In the 28 country study, 83 percent of sampled children had experienced psychological abuse; in the 6 country study, between 70 and 95 percent of mothers acknowledged screaming at children or verbally abusing them. There are no comparable surveys of neglect from the global South – perhaps because it is harder to define and because it is so often (and so much more clearly) a function of more general household deprivation. Data from the United States, however, indicate that neglect is many times more prevalent than other forms of abuse (figure xx). Figure xx: Forms of maltreatment by prevalence (USA 2010)


Runyan et al 2010 Lalor 2004 69 Foster and Brooks-Gunn 2009 68


US Department of Health and Human Services 2010

The same data set indicates that the younger children are, the more vulnerable they are to abuse and neglect. An age breakdown of reported incidents of victimization in the United States illustrates the much higher rates experienced by the youngest children, with the very highest rates being among children under one year of age (Figure xx). The figures for fatalities are most extreme in this regard: children under one year make up 47 percent of all fatalities for those under 18 due to abuse or neglect.70 It is not clear that this pattern holds everywhere. The Curitiba study cited above found that children between five and nine were most likely to be the target of violence in the home. 71 Figure xx Victims of abuse by age (USA 2010)

The physical ecology of child abuse Over recent decades, as noted, the understanding of child abuse has for the most part moved away from a clinical view of adult deviance and towards a recognition of the context in which both child and perpetrator are embedded.72 This ecological model of child maltreatment was articulated in 1977 by James Garbarino,73 who acknowledged that the problem was more productively approached by considering the factors that could encourage a “climate for child abuse�. This model considers the many factors that might contribute to the way a child is treated, from immediate stresses within the household, 70

US Dept of Health and Human Services 2010 ApostĂłlico et al 2012 72 Freisthler et al 2006 73 Garbarino 1977 71


and an absence of social supports within the larger community, 74 to the larger political, economic and cultural conditions that might contribute to maltreatment, such as crop failures, high rates of unemployment, or attitudes about appropriate ways to rear children.75 Multiple adversities and risks can combine to create a threshold at which abuse or neglect are more likely to occur.76 Unemployment, combined with parental drug abuse or mental illness, social isolation and a lack of education, would be more likely, for instance, to precipitate child abuse than any of these factors alone. For families in poverty, these kinds of risk factors tend to co-exist and reinforce one another. Numerous first world studies have related parents’ stress and their sense of control in life to the risk of physical child abuse and neglect.77 Although far less plentiful, research from a number of countries in the South has also shown a close association between conditions of poverty and child abuse.78 Even within these more contextual approaches to child maltreatment, however, it remains rare to find attention to the physical environment. When family stress is discussed, for instance, it is the social features that are investigated – unemployment levels or the strength of social networks rather than the quality of housing. Yet the physical surroundings clearly add to the stresses that can precipitate or contribute to child maltreatment. Leroy Pelton proposed in the 1990s that in many situations it was the material hardships related to poverty rather than poverty itself that explained this relationship. Physical conditions, he noted, were critical mediating factors, adding to the stresses that contribute to child maltreatment.79 Subsequent research has supported this contention. The impact of living conditions for levels of personal control, for supportive social networks and for restoration from stress has been clearly documented, 80 Gary Evans and colleagues provide compelling evidence of the cumulative strain that can be imposed on family relationships by features of the material environment.81 Many of these features are most commonly found in environments of poverty – or conversely people in poverty are the most constrained in terms of being able to deal effectively with them.82 Living conditions are fundamentally related to the way caregivers deal with children. 83 The quality of parental care is directly tied to the balance of supports and stressors in the parents’ lives.84 Caregivers who are exhausted, frustrated or depressed are more likely to compromise in their desire to do their best for their children, and may even become 74

Coulton et al 2007 Slack et al 2004; Freisthler et al 2006 76 MacKenzie and Kotch 2005 77 Rodriguez and Richardson 2007; Bugental and Happaney, K 2004 78 Hunter et al. 2000; Khamis 2000; Klevens, Bayo ́n, Sierra 2000 79 Pelton 1994 75


Evans 2003 See, for instance, Evans and English 2002; Evans, Maxwell and Hart 1999 82 Freisthler, Merritt and LaScala 2006 83 Bartlett, S 1997 b 84 . Belsky, J 1984 81


abusive.85 As researchers from Scotland point out, it is not just what a child does but how the parent is feeling. According to one mother, “This is terrible but when I’m stressed, you know what I mean… you snap easier. And that’s not my son’s fault.” 86 Difficult living conditions can drain energy and emotional resources, whether through insecurity, crowding, dilapidation, high noise levels, unsuitable space or a sheer lack of the basic amenities needed for day to day survival.87 These stresses are far more difficult to cope with and to escape from for parents in poverty, and are not conducive to responsive, supportive, flexible behaviour with young children.88 Overcrowded housing or a lack of safe play space or an inability to pay the rent may not be sufficient in themselves to result in abuse, but they contribute to the challenges and complexity of a situation within which abuse becomes more likely to occur. When people lack a sense of control over circumstances in their lives, they may also be more likely to feel that harsher and more coercive discipline is necessary with children.89 A study of attitudes towards discipline in 34 countries found that mothers from the lowest income quintile were significantly more likely to feel that physical punishment was necessary with children.90 Children who are at higher risk Not all children in a community or even a family are at equal risk for abuse or neglect. 91 Gender, age, health, temperament, birth order and behaviour can all place children at higher risk of maltreatment.92 These factors can be exacerbated by the material environment. Poor provision for sanitation, waste removal and adequate supplies of clean water, along with other environmental hazards, for example, can mean that young children especially are repeatedly or chronically ill and malnourished. This can make them more irritable and demanding, but can also result in passivity. In Brazil, as noted earlier, Nancy Scheper Hughes found that infants who were especially docile or passive were selectively neglected by mothers, who feared they lacked the vitality to survive in shantytown conditions.93 Physical conditions can also add to the challenges of dealing with children who are disabled in various ways, making them more vulnerable to both abuse and neglect.94 An interesting line of inquiry linking environmental conditions, health and child maltreatment is parasite stress theory, which relates the high prevalence of infectious disease and parasite loads to more general social and cultural trends. Among these trends, according to Randy Thornhill and Corey Fincher, is a higher incidence of violence against children, especially young children. In line with more general findings on abuse, 85

McLoyd 1990 Brownlie and Anderson 2006 (p 485) 87 Aidoo and Harpham 2001 88 Evans, Maxwell, Hart1999 89 Guterman, Lee, Taylor and Rathouz 2009 90 Cappa and Khan 2012 91 Caldwell 1996 92 Jaudes and Mackey-Bilaver 2008, Engle, Castle and Menon 1996, Caldwell 1996 93 Scheper-Hughes 1992 94 Save the Children Norway 2005 86


they postulate that the lower levels of health and ability in children who are infested with parasites, or whose mothers have been infested while they are in utero, make them more likely to become victims of violence than healthy children. Like other “parental animals” they say, human parents “exhibit discriminative parental solicitude” (p 3473). Using population data from the United States, they find support for this hypothesis, and demonstrate that parasite levels are more strongly predictive of child abuse than either income levels or wealth disparities (as measured by GINI coefficients).95 Being a girl is in many places an added risk factor. Gender-related violence occurs across the life cycle – starting with the selective abortion and infanticide of girls, and going on to selective neglect, genital mutilation, sexual abuse and harassment in various contexts and coerced marriage or prostitution. 96 While environmental factors are not primary here, they can reinforce the risks. The spatial isolation and restrictions on mobility experienced by girls in many settings, for instance, may add to their vulnerability. Housing conditions and child maltreatment Research has repeatedly found links between housing problems of various kinds and the abuse and neglect of children, especially in the United States. Sometimes housing is a precipitating factor; sometimes it complicates an array of other stresses.97 The association of crowding with violence towards children is the most solidly researched aspect of this relationship – it has been noted for some time and in a range of settings.98 A study undertaken in the USA by Susan Zuravin in the 1980s to test the validity of this connection concluded the residential density was far more than simply a proxy for social class or economic well-being, and that density (measured as 1.51 persons per room) was in fact significantly associated with reported incidents of child abuse and neglect.99 Confined household space limits the activities that are possible for children and often means they are underfoot at inconvenient times. Behaviour that might be acceptable under other conditions can become intolerable when space is tight and result in a much higher level of irritation on the part of adults. Crowded living may also mean that adults have no place to withdraw to in order to control their emotions. Crowded conditions increase the need for discipline, and when stress levels are high, this can take punitive forms. Studies from Kenya, Peru, Mexico and Egypt all support the connection between household crowding and levels of abuse.100 Living in overcrowded conditions may contribute to the likelihood of abuse, but also to the subsequent level of fear and anxiety 95

Thornhill and Fincher 2011 UNICEF IRC 2000 97 Zuravin 1989, Freishtler et al 2006, Shdaimah, 2009 98 Peterman 1981, Evans and Cohen 1987; Sumba and Bwibo 1993; Tadele et al 1999, Evans, Saegert, Harris, 2001 99 Zuravin 1986 100 Sumba, and Bwiba 1993, Gage and Silverstre 2010, Vega-Lopez, Gonzalez-Perez, Valle, Flores, Romero-Valle and Quintero 2008, Evans, Lepore, et al 1998, Afifi, El-Lawindi, Ahmed, Basily 2003 96


for the children involved. A study in the USA found that the “personal space” of abused children was significantly larger than that of their peers, personal space being defined as the invisible boundary around a person, or the distance they are comfortable maintaining between themselves and others. 101 Related to overcrowding is the concept of “environmental chaos”, a summary term that refers to crowding together with high levels of noise, many people coming and going and a lack of structure and control in daily life. This has been consistently found across cultures to have a negative effect on the interactions between children and caregivers; these interactions become less sustained and predictable, and behaviour and emotions become less well regulated.102 Caregivers tend to be less responsive and more likely to use harsh discipline. This is not just about adult responses. Children are highly sensitive to chaotic surroundings and tend in these circumstances to have more difficulty responding to social cues and a higher likelihood of problem behaviours103. Given that young children are most likely to be those underfoot at home, it stands to reason that they would also be most frequently the victims of home-based abuse.104 Older children are better able to put between themselves and an angry adult. An important factor in the context of these environmental concerns is the extent to which a developing child can respond to her need for play and exploration without adding substantially to the stress of caregivers. As often as not, a parent’s frustrations with a small child stem from her interaction with the physical environment – playing with something that is forbidden, knocking over a pitcher of water, climbing up onto a chair and falling over, making too much noise, running where it is not appropriate. The most common reason given for smacking a small child in Scotland was that they had done or were about to do something dangerous.105 Healthy attachment between parent and child has a strong spatial dimension. Anthropologist Margaret Mead referred to different age groups in spatial ways – as “lap children”, “knee children”, “yard children” and “community children”.106 Very young children instinctively seek contact and proximity, not wanting to go too far from their caregivers, who ideally respond in a warm and protective way. But growing children also need to explore and experiment with independence. Even knee children need room to explore their surroundings. As they move from being knee children to yard children, they need more space and opportunity for this to happen in safe, stimulating ways that still allow them to maintain some level of voice or visual contact with a caregiver. When there is no “yard” or its equivalent, but just a heavily trafficked street or an apartment building with no easy access to the outdoors, the natural tendencies of a child can be thwarted. These spatial restrictions can interfere with the flexible evolution of the 101

Vranic 2003 Wachs and Corapci 2003; Evans and Wachs 2010 103 Fiese, Barbara H and Marcia A Winter (2010) The dynamics of family chaos and its relation to children’s socioemotional well-being, in Evans and Wachs (eds) 2010 104 Evans, Saltzman, Cooperman 2001 105 Brownlie and Anderson 2006 106 Whiting and Edwards1988 102


relationship between parent and child, which would normally adapt to a gradually increasing range on the part of the child. Instead they stimulate a level of brittleness and anxiety that can contribute to maltreatment.107 Research in the United States in low-income housing units that opened directly onto a lightly trafficked street and a parking lot found that mothers were reluctant to let children under five or six outdoors at all. One young mother explained that even if she were there supervising them, she was anxious that her very active two and three-year-old boys might dart into the street in front of a car before she could stop them. Without transportation she had no way to take them to a safer place to play. 108 More affluent households, even living in close quarters, have more opportunities to make up for confinement with outings to parks and playgrounds; in situations of poverty, this is less likely to be the case. Despite the lack of systematic research exploring this link, especially in the South, it does not take much imagination to understand how a small child’s natural drive for play and exploration might result in conflict and more punitive parenting when children and caregivers are trapped together in a small apartment or a one room shack. Housing security It is not simply a matter of the material conditions of housing. Affordable, secure housing is fundamental to family stability. When resources are tight, a secure place to live is generally the most intractable problem for a family to deal with. A large body of research in the United States has pointed to the connections between this problem and child maltreatment. Unfortunately, almost no research exists on this link in the countries where housing insecurity is most common. Linda Anooshian points to correlations in the USA between homelessness and high levels of violence and aggression in children’s lives – not only from parents but between children as well.109 Another study found that children borne to homeless mothers were four times as likely to be involved with child welfare agencies before the age of five as those whose mothers, with similarly low incomes, were able to remain housed.110 Interviews with legal and social work professionals involved in child protection in the USA indicated, without exception, that they considered housing to be an issue in situations where children were at risk, and in many cases to be the primary concern.111 Housing security can be a precipitating problem and it can amplify other problems, exacerbating the stress felt by parents. An increase in child abuse is a disturbing aspect of the trend of housing foreclosures in the United States in recent years. A medical news blog notes the resulting spike in hospital admissions for injuries related to child abuse. Dr. Joanne Wood reported at the 107

Bartlett 1997 Bartlett 1997 109 Anooshian 2005 108

110 111

Culhane et al 2003

Shdaimah 2009


2011 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Denver that for each 1 percent increase in foreclosure rates over the prior 12 months per metropolitan area, the rate of child abuse admissions had increased by up to 6.8 percent. By contrast, no relationship was detected between unemployment rates and child abuse admission rates.112 Residential mobility has been repeatedly identified as another risk factor in children’s abuse. Research in Thailand points to much higher rates of physical and emotional abuse for children in migrant families than in other demographically similar families.113 In the United States, similarly, Dong and colleagues, after controlling for other demographic variables, found a robust relationship between the occurrence of childhood abuse and the number of moves a household had experienced.114 Parental stress associated with moving, and the social isolation resulting from it, are generally postulated to be the reasons for increased rates of abuse in the context of mobility. Causality can go in the other direction as well: children who have experienced abuse are more likely to end up homeless – some while they are still children, running to escape the violence;115 others later in their lives as a result of the impaired social relationships, behavioural problems and low levels of social support that are among both the consequences of abuse and the risk factors for homelessness.116 In an Ottawa sample of homeless individuals, 42 percent of the men and 76 percent of the women had been abused as children.117 Neglect and material conditions Even more common than physical abuse is the neglect that can accompany difficult living conditions and the impossible choices that often face parents in poverty. The overwhelming array of challenges that accompany material deprivation in many places – a lack of sanitation, a long distance to water points, unsafe cooking facilities, dilapidated housing, an absence of safe play space – make some level of neglect almost inevitable. These challenging conditions often occur in clusters; overburdened caregivers can be forced to leave children unsupervised, and to cut corners in every aspect of childcare. Women in a number of settings speak of the punishing workloads they face in the context of material adversity, and of the fatigue and anxiety that undermine their capacity to cope adequately with their children’s needs.118 In the Dominican Republic, for instance, women knew the importance of protecting their children from diarrhoea, but said that frequently they were simply too exhausted to boil water.119 It is not only a matter of time pressures. Research from the USA indicates that when caregivers lack the control over 112 accessed January 21 2012 113 Jirapramukpitak, Abas, Harpham and Prince 2011 114 Dong., Anda, Felitti, Williamson,. Dube., Brown et al. 2005 115 Knaul and Ramirez 2005 116 Novac 2006 117 Farrell et al. 2000 118 Avotri and Walters 1999; Aidoo and Harpham 2001 119 Mclennan 2000


conditions to be able to protect children adequately, they may become more fatalistic, less appropriately vigilant120 In a Kathmandu slum, for instance, where shallow open drains carry all kinds of waste through the settlement, busy mothers sometimes just turn a blind eye to toddlers wading through contaminated muck, despite their awareness of the health dangers. The alternative is keeping them in their small shacks, isolated from friends. 121 Some mothers manage, but at a considerable cost in terms of effort and anxiety. A mother in Bangalore, for instance, describes the effort involved to stay vigilant with her small children in the absence of adequate toilet facilities: I take both of them with me when I need to go to the toilet or they need to go as I’m scared to leave them alone here…it is very difficult when I sit I have to hold both their hands…or when I am with one of them the other one wanders away and I have to shout at them to come back…the tracks are right there so I am scared they might go there ..or to the khada – god knows what is there…bad people, snakes everything!122 The implications are significant. Among other things, young children are disproportionately affected by the environmental conditions around them and highly preventable diseases related to living conditions still the cause a high proportion of child deaths worldwide. Young children experience about 80 percent of all sanitation related illness, for instance. Diarrhoeal disease remains one of the most common causes of death among children under five and can contribute to malnutrition and other causes of death and morbidity, as well as to impaired physical and mental development.123 The housing problems that contribute to this de facto neglect are also frequently the precipitating causes of injury for young children. Faulty wiring, unprotected cooking arrangements, unsafe heating, dilapidated construction, an absence of proper storage for kerosene, insecticides and the like, all increase the need for vigilance on the part of caregivers.124 In an informal community in South Africa, young children were poisoned by drinking paraffin (kerosene) which they thought was water. Households had been running out of drinking water because of the failure of city water tankers to arrive when scheduled. Accidental paraffin poisonings are disproportionately common in the context of poor settlements in low-income countries, where this often is the most convenient fuel available for light, cooking and heating, and where adequately safe storage may be difficult to provide. 125 In the context of sub-par housing and provision, it can be hard to avoid sometimes lethal neglect. The stress associated with domestic abuse can contribute to this situation, further undermining women’s capacity to provide adequate supervision. Recent research in Peru found that in homes where domestic violence was taking place, children were more likely to experience serious injury. 126


Ernst, Meyer and DePanfilis 2004 Personal observation 122 Nallari 2013 p 9. 123 WHO 2012 124 Butchart et al 2000; Janson et al 1994; Shdaimah 2009 125 Balan and Lingam 2012; Schwebel et al 2009 126 Benavides et al 2011 121


Even housing design can be a factor. In his research on household injury, Selim Iltus described how the poor layout of public housing in the Bronx in New York City compromised the capacity of mothers to supervise their children. Working in tiny kitchens separated visually from other rooms, mothers were unable to monitor small children as they played – nor could they safely allow them underfoot in the same room.127 Overwhelmed caregivers may be compromised in their capacity for vigilance and physical care, but also for the kind of emotional responsiveness that is crucial to young children. Research suggests that severe neglect may be more damaging over time to children’s outcomes than physical abuse, interfering with cognitive and social development and even resulting in substantial impairment.128 The situation can be seriously complicated by depression or mental illness, which can contribute to withdrawn or inconsistent behaviour on the part of parents, placing children at much higher risk for a range of developmental delays, behavioural issues and later problems.129 According to researchers on the topic from Brazil, “The sorry condition of women’s mental health includes the difficulty of mothering and the tendency to punish their children as a way of educating or being permissive, leaving the decision on the best behavior up to their children. The sentiment of inadequacy and insecurity felt by mothers with mental health problems is related to a wide range of negative consequences for their children.”130 Increasing evidence globally of the high burden of mental health problems shows poor women in low-income countries at highest risk. This situation has received greater prominence since the 2001 World Health Report, which focused on global mental health.131 Evidence that has appeared since then continues to stress the strong links between common mental disorders and the unpredictabilty and anxiety that accompanies poverty and the lack of basic necessities,132 factors that are undoubtedly intensified by difficult and insecure housing conditions. The World Health Organization acknowledges that parents without the resources to ensure their children’s needs, whether to adequate shelter or other basic needs, cannot reasonably be seen as guilty of neglect.133 But WHO does not take the extra step of placing responsibility at the feet of government or other actors. And where formal systems are in place to respond to neglect, parents may be seriously penalized by their poverty, rather than supported to deal with it. The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform in the United States makes this point with an example that highlights the risks even in a high-income country: “Imagine that you are an impoverished single mother with a four-year-old daughter and 127

Iltus 1994 National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2012; Egeland, Sroufe and Erickson 1983 129 Zero to Three 2011 130 Avanci, Assis and Oliveira 2013 131 WHO 2001 132 Patel 2007 133 Krug et al 2002 128


an infant son The infant is ill with a fever and you need to get him medicine. But you have no car, it’s very cold, pouring rain, and it will take at least an hour to get to and from the pharmacy. You don't know most of your neighbors and those you know you have good reason not to trust. What do you do? Go without the medicine? That’s ‘medical neglect.’ The child savers can take away your children for medical neglect. Bundle up the feverish infant in the only, threadbare coat he’s got and take him out in the cold and rain? That's ‘physical neglect.’ The child savers can take away your children for physical neglect. Leave the four-year-old to care for the infant and try desperately to get back home as soon as you can? That’s ‘lack of supervision.’ The child savers can take away your children for lack of supervision. And in every one of those cases, the child savers would say, with a straight face, that they didn’t take your children ‘because of poverty alone.’ ”134 Another of their examples illustrates the degree to which housing problems can increase a family’s vulnerability to accusations of neglect: “In Houston, a family living in unsafe housing moves to the only “gated community” it can afford after the father loses his job: a 12 x 25 foot storage unit. The father builds a loft area and shelves. The unit has electricity, heat and air conditioning. The family lives there, and the children do well, for three years. Then someone calls Child Protective Services. CPS removes the children on the spot – without lifting a finger to help to find the family housing.”135 Sibling violence According to a recent review of the evidence, violence between siblings is one of the most prevalent, least studied and least reported forms of family violence, and, at least in the United States, the means by which young children are most likely to experience aggression.136 Children under nine have been found far more likely to sustain sibling than peer violence, with rates peaking at about age six, and the situation is more likely to be chronic in the case of sibling violence.137 Its significance, however, is often downplayed and treated as a normal part of growing up – it is rarely seen as deviant behaviour.138 Acts that might be viewed as serious assaults if inflicted by an adult are seldom taken seriously when they occur between children. And yet sibling violence can be unremitting and frightening. The very normality that is assumed around sibling violence can make it more difficult for a victimized child to avoid. The effects can be damaging and long-lasting. 139 No research has been found linking sibling violence to features of the physical environment – although less severe forms of sibling violence have been related to measures of stress and lack of resources within family systems. But nor has any research 134

NCCPR 2011 NCCPR 2011 136 Krienert and Walsh 2011 137 Finkelhor, Turner, Ormrod 2006 138 Eriksen and Jensen 2009 139 Finkelhor, Turner and Ormrod 2006 135


been found that investigates this link. Future research, as the most recent review points out, needs to focus on the circumstances within which sibling violence occurs. 140 Among these circumstances are the material and spatial factors involved. How often, for instance, is aggression territorial in nature, especially in the context of limited resources? Sexual abuse of children Figures are especially hard to obtain for sexual abuse, and there is a good deal of variation depending on how it is defined and who is reporting it – with children, for instance, reporting higher rates than their parents acknowledge. According to reports cited by the World Health Organization, the number of adults who report having endured sexual abuse as children averages about 20 percent in women and 5 to 10 percent in men.141 Sexual abuse most often happens within the home with a male family member most often the perpetrator. While the greater number of these cases are certainly older children and adolescents, and while these situations can include transactional sex, which is unlikely to be a factor with young children, rape is also a reality for young children – especially given the targeting of younger children by sexual predators in some places where HIV is prevalent, on the belief that they are least likely to be affected.142 Child sex abuse increases the risk of a range of mental disorders in adult life, including depression, anxiety disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, and suicide, as well as a greater likelihood of becoming a perpetrator of abuse.143 Sexual abuse can arguably be related to material conditions, especially the capacity to regulate privacy, although there is little formal research supporting this connection. In one Botswana study, children noted that in overcrowded houses, where they were forced to share bedrooms with parents, they were exposed early to sexual activity and the likelihood of abuse.144 Women in Mumbai settlements that were being upgraded also spoke of the critical importance of room dividers to allow couples some privacy, and to help protect children from unwanted attention.145 After the tsunami, many NGOs, local and international, assumed that one room replacement dwellings made sense since “this is what people are used to.” In fact, discussions with women and children in affected areas made it clear that privacy was a real problem, even for people who had been accustomed to one room dwellings. Women in numerous communities, discussing the design of replacement housing, or the challenges related to temporary housing, spoke of their difficulties balancing the needs of their children and their husbands, and young girls discussed their discomfort in having no private place to dress and wash, and nowhere to hang laundered menstrual cloths where they would be hidden from view.146


Krienert and Walsh 2011 Krug EG et al., eds. 2002 142 Lalor 2008 143 WHO 2009 144 Okello-Wengi, Sebastian 2005 145 Conversations with members of Mahila Milan, Mumbai. 146 Bartlett 2006; also informal discussions with tsunami survivors. 141


Children in residential care For many children, home is a residential institution. The United Nations estimated in 2006 that over 8 million children fell formally into this category, but because of gaps in information, and because so many institutions remain unregistered, the actual number is likely to be far higher.147 The serious abuses against detained children in justice systems around the world are well known, but are less likely to apply to the age group under consideration here. However, young children living in orphanages and other kinds of residential care facilities are also at very high risk of neglect and abuse. In addition to their vulnerability to abusive treatment by staff and other children, conditions in often poorly resourced institutions can be so poor that they put children’s lives and health at risk. The youngest children especially are at risk of long-term developmental damage as a result of these conditions. A comparative study in Romania found that institutionalized children had significantly lower IQs and brain activity, were far more likely to have behavioural and social problems, and were seriously stunted physically.148 Some of the conditions contributing to these problems include overcrowding, poor hygiene, lack of toys and play facilities, time spent confined to cots and cribs – in addition of course to the all-important lack of responsive attention from consistent caregivers.149 The great majority of young children in residential care around the world are not in fact orphaned. In most cases, parents in deep poverty see these institutions as a chance to provide better lives for their children. Domestic violence against women Domestic or intimate partner violence, a critically important feature of the violence that young children experience in their homes, is increasingly recognized as a serious social issue. Forty years ago, even in a country as progressive as Sweden, attention had to be drawn to the fact that the scale of violence in the home most likely exceeded violence in public space, and that what happened in the privacy of the home did not make it a private issue.150 As feminist geographer Rachel Pain pointed out in 1997, “An accurate map of urban rape would highlight far more bedrooms than alleyways and parks.”151 This is still the situation worldwide – home can provide the privacy that allows abuse to take place. If anything, violence by a male partner is even more common for rural than for urban women.152 Despite the growing mass of evidence from country after country, and despite rights conventions and national laws, women in high numbers continue to endure violence. According to the 2006 WHO multi-country study on women's health and domestic violence conducted in ten globally representative countries, the reported lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence among women 15 to 49 years of age varied between 15 and 71 percent. In only one site in one country were women more likely to be victimized by someone other than their partner.153 147

Pinheiro 2006 Bucharest Early Intervention Project, 2009 149 Csáky 2009 150 Dahl 1975 151 Pain 1997 152 McIlwaine 2013 153 Garcia-Moreno et al 2006 148


Research findings from numerous countries point to the significant implications for children of domestic violence. There are the psychological effects from witnessing violence against family members, most often their mothers, but also a much greater likelihood that they will themselves become victims of violence or abuse. One young girl in Bogota describes the experience: “He abused her a lot. He hit her a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot. And that’s how it was… I never forget that, never, never, never …He hit her with everything, he locked us up, yeah he left us three days locked up like that in the house with nothing to eat, there in our room. My sister and I drank water and ate soap…. We saw a lot of that and it affected me a lot… it still affects me” (p 74) 154 Evidence from numerous culturally distinct countries points to close links between the violence against women and abusive treatment of children.155 An Indian study, for instance, found that the risk of child abuse doubled in homes where women were treated violently.156 A number of reviews of studies on the co-occurrence of abuse towards mothers and children show an overlap that ranges between 30 and 70 percent.157 It is not necessarily the father in these cases who abuses the children. The experience of violence can also push women over the edge. A Peruvian study, for example, found women were significantly more likely to beat their children if they were themselves being beaten by their partners.158 Nor does the abuse of children necessarily end if their parents are separated.159 There is also a strong relationship between the violence experienced by women and mental health problems, another route through which children can become affected. There is also the potential harm directly to the developing fetus when violence is directed to women during pregnancy, a not an uncommon situation.160 A review of the evidence from countries in the global South indicates that up to 29 percent women are abused while they are pregnant.161 Among pregnant women who are abused there are significantly higher risks of miscarriage, complications, pre-term delivery, peri-natal death and low birth weight.162 Infants’ general health may also be affected: in Bangladesh, domestic violence was associated with an increased risk of diarrhoeal and respiratory tract infections for infants.163 Women who are the victims of abuse themselves are less likely to be able to provide good care, more likely to neglect children; and stressors associated with poverty, including problems with shelter, contribute to their despair and neglect. 164


Rittenbush 2013 Child abuse chapter WHO violence study 156 Hunter et al. 2000 157 Holt, Buckley and Whelan 2008 158 Gage and Silverstre 2010 159 Holt, Buckley and Whelan 2008 160 See for example Clark et al 2009; Cripe et al 2010, Ahmed et al 2006 161 Nasir and Hyder 2003 162 Nasir and Hyder 2003; Sanchez et al 2008; Koenig et al 2010; Ahmed et al 2006 163 Asling-Monemi, et al 2009 164 DiLauro 2004. 155


There is considerable evidence that simply witnessing family violence can be as damaging for children as experiencing it personally.165 Evidence from a multi-country study, for instance, found that among the most consistent risk factors for suicide attempts on the part of women in low-income countries was not only intimate partner violence or having experienced abuse as a child, but having had a mother who experienced domestic violence.166 How the home environment can contribute to domestic violence Although domestic abuse occurs within all social strata, the evidence points to higher rates for low-income women. Intimate violence has been found in the USA, for instance, to be twice as prevalent and more severe in disadvantaged neighborhoods, especially in economically distressed households.167 The question for this review is two-fold – to what extent do housing and features of housing mediate these higher rates, and to what extent does abuse, in turn, complicate the business of being adequately housed. As to the first of these questions, evidence from a number of countries points to links between domestic violence and housing insecurity, crowding, layout, isolation and other factors. A good deal of the evidence comes from the United States. A 15 year long prospective study, for instance, which considered a number of social and environmental stressors, found that a composite measure of physical environment factors, including crowding in the home, housing problems, recent or frequent family moves, a lack of home conveniences and physical remoteness, was significantly related to women’s exposure to violence (as well as to levels of child abuse).168 Women living in rental housing in the USA were found to be victimized on average three times as often as those in owned homes.169 This could be just a reflection of income levels, since low-income households are more likely to rent. But rental housing is also more often overcrowded and rundown, and more likely to contribute to stress for those reasons. Research investigating the reasons for higher levels of domestic violence in public housing complexes found that a combination of location, architectural features and density in these complexes contributed to putting women at much higher risk of violence. These features, it was hypothesized, all tend to have an adverse effect on the quality and frequency of interaction among households.170 If density can contribute, so can physical isolation. Rural locales may have less anonymity, but the spatial isolation combined with a lack of economic opportunity can contribute to women’s vulnerability and to more severe episodes of violence. Pruitt points out that in isolated rural communities the lack of anonymity may also deter women from seeking help. 171


Wolfe et al 2003 Devries et al 2011 167 Benson and Fox 2004 168 Herrenkohl and Herrenkohl 2007 169 Catalano 2006 170 Raphael 2001 171 Pruitt 2008 166


Although research from low- and middle-income countries on this link is more limited, some work does exist. A survey of over a thousand women in the town of Lages, Brazil, for instance, where a high prevalence of abuse was found, indicated that household crowding was a significant factor, along with age (younger couples were more affected) and economic hardship.172 In Andhra Pradesh, India, female sex workers who reported residential instability were more likely to report both sexual and physical violence.173 Not all research has found a positive relationship however. A South African study found no significant connections between violence and levels of crowding, but linked abuse rather to the status of women in society.174 No material factors can override the powerful impact of social, cultural and economic forces that render women so vulnerable, but they can be a factor in the dynamics of abuse when it occurs. The home environment is often considered to contribute to violence through the very seclusion that it offers. Meth, however, challenges the prevailing assumptions around privacy and domestic violence, arguing that they do not sufficiently question the material realities of the domestic space within which “domestic� violence presumably occurs. Home, she points out, is not always a formal material space that allows for real separation of the private and public domain. She speaks of women in informal housing in South Africa for whom the threat of violence is closely tied to the very flimsiness of their housing. Living in shacks made of cardboard, plastic sheeting and metal sheeting, they are unable to slam a door, lock windows, or indeed prevent their very walls from being ripped down. Meth notes that for women in her study, questions about home were often more emotional and painful than questions about physical and sexual violence. The degree to which the home offers material solidity can provide the seclusion and privacy that can promote abuse, but on the other hand it can also offer protection. The quality of the material space affects the nature and experience of domestic violence.175 McIlwaine points out that makeshift dwellings in insecure settlements also put women at greater risk of non-partner violence, including burglary and rape.176 Poor provision for basic amenities is a particular feature of housing in low and middle income countries, complicating the workloads primarily of women and girls. This can contribute to stress in a range of ways, but it can also have a direct effect in provoking violence in situations where men feel their needs are not being adequately met, or that wives are not fulfilling their duties. Long distances to fetch water, inefficient stoves, a lack of fuel, no provision for electricity, can all conspire to mean that clothes are not clean and food is not cooked in time. Common reasons for justifying wife beating are that children are neglected or food is burned.177


Anacleto, Njaine, Longo, Boing, Peres 2009 Reed, Biradavolu, Devireddy, Blankenship 2011 174 Jewkes, , Levin, Penn-Kekana 2002 173


Meth 2003 McIlwaine 2013 177 176


How domestic violence can contribute to housing problems The link between housing and domestic violence is reciprocal, not unidirectional. Housing problems can contribute to the likelihood of intimate partner violence; but violence is also a pathway into homelessness and long term housing problems. A British study found that 60 percent of women who had left home did so because they were afraid that they or their children would be killed.178 Despite the fact that women in many countries flee their homes because of intimate partner violence, the research in this, as so many areas, is primarily from high income countries. Ongoing research by Janet Bowstead in the United Kingdom, for instance, has mapped the movement of over 500 women and their children, forced out of their homes from fear of violence. These women took refuge in homeless shelters in different parts of the UK as just the first step in the long effort to find new housing; many women made multiple moves to a series of temporary homes. Sixty percent of these women had children with them, most of them under five years of age.179 In the words of one of the participants in this research: “I shouldn’t be keeping on running – I’m running every minute. That’s why I said I’m making sure that this property, and my next property – because obviously I need to move to my “permanent” – to make sure that’s my last. No more stress after this – that’s what I’m saying – domestic violence no more.” In the United States, one study of a sample of 110 women who had experienced domestic violence found that 38 percent were homeless after they left their husbands.180 Several other US studies have found that between a quarter and a half of homeless women reported domestic violence as the immediate cause of their homelessness.181 Mayors from 39 cities in the United States considered domestic violence to be the primary cause of family homelessness in their cities.182 A review of Canadian literature also concluded that family violence is commonly the precipitating factor for homelessness for women and children.183 Even when women are not without shelter, they may be forced to move in with friends, to pay far more than they can afford, to skimp on other necessities, or to live in housing that is physically unsafe or illegal. In many cases, their circumstances force them to turn to child protective services. As one child protection social worker described a situation, “We need housing when we need housing…Like the case I was talking about this morning with a woman with, she’s 26 years old years old, she has two children and she’s pregnant, This woman didn’t do anything to her children, she had a home, she was chased out of this home by an abusive relationship.”184 Women are also more likely to experience eviction if the are victims of abuse. A survey of legal and social service providers across the United States found that 11 percent of


Humphreys and Thiara 2002 Bowstead 2011 180 Baker, Cook and Norris 2003 181 Reported in NNEDV-NLCHP 2007 182 Homelessness Resource Center, citing 2007 US Conference of mayors 183 Novac 2006 184 Shdaimah 2009 page 215 179


evicted women clients had been evicted because of their violent partners.185 In some cases this was blamed on physical damage to a rental unit, in some cases because the police had been called in. Even more women who have been victims of abuse are likely to have subsequent housing problems as a result; they are less likely to qualify for subsidized housing if they are residents of shelters for abused women, or if they are known to have been victims of abuse. Women in Texas, for example, were told “ ‘not to bother applying’ for public housing because the local housing authority did not want people with ‘that kind of history’ living in public housing.” 186 Housing instability in turn compounds the effects of domestic violence. Research in the United States indicates that the more risk factors an abused woman has for housing instability, the greater the chance that she will experience PTSD and depression, and be absent from work.187 Difficulty in accessing alternative housing can also leave mothers and children trapped by on-going violence.188 There may also be problems associated with housing shelters that prevent women from taking this route – such as crowding, inadequate building security, potential abuse by other residents and rules that require residents to spend the day outside the shelter. 189 The high proportion of women who return to abusive relationships do so most often because of economic needs, the most pressing of which is the cost of housing.190 When children are part of the situation, the economic difficulties of escaping violent relationships are even more daunting. The impacts for children can be far-reaching – stretches of time in shelters or constantly on the move can compound the risks presented by exposure to violence, contributing to the likelihood of behavioural problems, anxiety, depression, disrupted school attendance and academic underperformance.191 These problems appear to exist independently of the distress experienced by mothers themselves: a study of children living in battered women’s shelters, for instance, found that about a third of them were considered to have behavioural problems severe enough to call for clinical attention. The psychological distress experienced by mothers themselves tended to diminish once they had left the shelter, but they continued to report problems with their children.192 Homelessness increases children’s chances of becoming victims of violence, and puts them at high risk of health problems – in the USA they were reported to have four times as many respiratory problems and asthma, and five times as many episodes of diarrhea.193 Housing and property as a deterrent to domestic violence Research in the USA has pointed to the very critical role of permanent secure housing in preventing domestic violence. In 1998, an assessment of the comparative success of 185

NNEDV-NLCHP 2007 NNEDV-NLCHP 2007 p.113 187 Rollins et al 2012 188 Novac 2006 189 Novac 2006 190 Pavao, Alvarez, Baumrind, Induni, Kimerling 2007 191 Rog and Buckner 2007 192 Shinn Ware, Jouriles, Spiller, McDonald, Swank and Norwood 2001 193 Committee on Temporary Shelter. 2004 186


various prevention strategies, including job training, training in independent living skills, employment, legal support and a multitude of other interventions, found they all lacked the power of secure housing to prevent further victimization.194 More recent research confirms the relatively disappointing results of interventions based on social and interpersonal responses.195 According to Pascal and colleagues, “There is a strong case … that housing is a key resource, if not the key resource that enables women to protect themselves against violence. Any erosion of housing access for women experiencing domestic violence exposes them to risk and makes them more vulnerable in relationships.”196 These kinds of findings are an expression of the deep-seated structural insecurity of women and speak to the power relations that underlie violence. The strong findings from the United States and Canada are supported by a growing body of work on the complex links between domestic violence, home ownership and property rights from low and middle-income countries. Women’s property ownership and inheritance rights vary widely between regions and from country to country. Countries in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa are most likely to have discriminatory legal frameworks.197 But even in countries with laws in place, these laws are not necessarily implemented in a gender-blind way.198 In Kenya, for instance, although the law does not proscribe women from owning land, only 5 percent of registered land titles are in women’s names.199 Where Southern research exists on the topic, it shows the considerable protective potential of property ownership and housing security for women. Research from South Africa and Uganda, for instance, indicates that for a woman to have her “own place” can add substantially to her capacity to negotiate violence.200 Where women own a house or land, their risk of violence is considered to be significantly reduced.201 Research in Kerala, India with a sample of 502 urban and rural women found that a woman’s ownership of land or housing , but especially the latter, was significantly associated with a reduced risk of domestic violence, both physical and psychological. Of those who owned neither land nor house, 49 percent experienced physical violence and 84 percent experienced psychological violence. Of those who owned both land and house, 7 percent experienced physical violence, and 16 percent psychological violence. Property ownership in this context offered greater protection than either education or employment.202 The same link was found in Uttar Pradesh, where home ownership had a statistically significant protective effect, stronger than that of employment.203 It could be hypothesized that once women have property, they cease to be property. The fact that this


Webscale and Johnson 1998 Gondolf 2011 196 Pascall, Lee, Morley and Parker 2001 197 World Bank 2010 198 UN 2011 199 Nyamu-Musembi, C. 2005, cited in UN 2011. 200 Swaminathan, Ashburn, Kes and Duvvury 2007 201 Commission on Status of Woman 2012 202 Panda and Agarwal, 2005 203 Bhattacharyya, Bedi, Chhachhi 2011 195


conclusion is empirically supported in both North and South is testimony to its value and relevance. This same link does not always hold true for more general empowerment measures for women. There is certainly a strong body of evidence pointing, for instance, to links between microcredit programmes and reductions in domestic violence.204 But the evidence is not unmixed. A more general review of the links between economic empowerment and the incidence of violence against women finds that, especially in more conservative societies, greater empowerment for women through employment can incite violence rather than reducing it. A Bangladesh study, for example, found that working women were more likely to experience intimate partner violence than those not employed.205 A key finding of this review was that women’s ownership of land and property was more strongly related to reductions in violence than was the case for employment – that by strengthening women’s exit options, property ownership also improved their bargaining position within the marriage.206 This finding is supported by Agarwal and Panda, who find that, unlike employment, which can have perverse effects, property ownership unambiguously deters violence, and can also provide an escape if violence occurs.207 Research in areas other than violence also supports this link between property ownership and women’s control over their own lives. In Peru, for example, when squatters were given property rights, fertility went down, but only in those households where the woman’s name was on the title along with her husband’s.208 Women’s empowerment, by whatever means, is important. But their power to control their personal space and that of their children appears to have a disproportionate weight. Men’s more common control of this space is a fundamental and critical component of the structural power relations between men and women which underlie so much of the violence that then rebounds on children.

Violence in Neighborhood Space Although home is the primary context for the development of very young children, as well as the setting for most experiences of violence for this age group, local common space and the public domain are also critical to young children’s lives. Human development, as Colette Daiute points out, unfolds as an essentially social process, whereby “the psychological life of an individual is inextricably entwined with public life in public space.”209


for instance, Kim et al 2007; Schuler et al. 1996. Rahman, Hoque and Makinoda 2011 206 Fraser 2012 207 Agarwal and Panda 2007 208 Field 2004 209 Daiute 2011p 40 205


The drive for exploration, discovery, social interaction begins to require a larger world, and sooner or later, children expand their range into local neighbourhood or common space. The age at which this happens differs depending on the place and the circumstances. Traditionally, children of six or seven have been considered old enough to enlarge their sphere of independent activity beyond home. In some places, even younger children are independent agents within a limited range, or follow their older siblings around the local area. In Mead’s classification, six-year-olds are certainly considered to be “community children”. Across cultures, neighbourhood has been considered the natural territory and, in an important sense, the “zone of proximal development”210 for children this age. This Vygotskian concept usually refers to the interpersonal support or scaffolding from others that can assist a child in moving to a new level of competence or understanding. But the new affordances available in the larger community setting, both physical and social, can also facilitate this jump in a child’s development. The nature and degree of a child’s engagement is determined in large part by the quality of this neighborhood space, and this can be affected by a complicated tangle of factors. Many children of six, seven or eight are restricted from becoming community children by safety concerns and by violence and insecurity related to factors both close at hand and far away. Even if violence outside the home does not directly affect young children, it can have a profound impact on their experience through its effects on those around them. The violence in question can take such a wide range of forms – the entire spectrum from everyday tensions between neighbours to a pervasive climate of lawlessness and violence that leads people to fear for their lives. In too many places, more extreme varieties of violence shape the lives of children who live in what might as well be war zones. Fear and insecurity can pervade people’s lives through endemic street crime, drug trafficking, gang activity and state sanctioned violence. The World Health Organization distinguishes between community violence and collective violence, including in the latter those forms of violence that have a larger agenda, whether social, political or economic. This can include war, political violence, ethnic violence, organized crime, terrorist activities, mob violence, and it can be perpetrated by groups of individuals or by states. By contrast, gang activity is considered by the WHO to fall into the realm of community violence.211 These classifications can be challenging, since there are so many areas of overlap, so many charged relationships between violence at different levels. Local forms of violence can, as Appadurai argues, be “fractal replicas” of larger struggles.212 All of these categories, however, have very local impacts, affecting levels of violence in the neighbourhood world and family life of young children. Michael Taussig makes this point in the context of Colombia: “…far too much attention is spent on the headlinegrabbing drama of the state versus the guerrilla. For the more fundamental issue in many ways is the sordid everyday one of grinding poverty, street crime, and the nightmare life of kids. During the 1980s, murder due to nonpolitical street crime started to soar, and today murder in the streets remains far higher than figures for deaths occurring in armed 210

Wertsch and Sohmer 1995 WHO 2002 212 Appadurai 2006 211


conflict between the guerrilla and the state’s armed forces.” 213 (p 197). For the purposes of this discussion, violence as it is locally experienced is considered less in terms of its genesis or agenda and more in terms of the impact that it has on the lives of children and their families. Neighbourhood tensions and social capital Violence does not have to be extreme to restrict the possibilities for small children. Because they are limited in their range, even animosity between neighbours, often generated by the physical difficulties in environments of poverty, can limit their chances to get out and play. Recent research by Anupama Nallari in Bangalore, India, highlights how restrictive these kinds of tensions can be. In one slum settlement without open space, when children tried to play in the cramped narrow lanes outside their shacks, neighbours would shout at them. These lanes, too tight to meet the multiple spatial needs of people living in tiny shacks, caused constant fights between residents. One mother said that she grew so tired of her neighbours’ chronic irritation and hostility that she would no longer allow her children to leave the house. “I didn’t have a choice but to keep calling them home and then finally forbidding them from playing outside. And with that they just forgot how to play…and then got used to not playing. And then they just got used to not going here and there and just staying at home. 214 In densely populated and underserved settlements, where every water tap or patch of space can become a source of contention, social capital can be seriously undermined, and the resulting tensions can add to stress and limit possibilities for children – to the point even of drying up as powerful a drive as the need for play. In another neighborhood in Bangalore, this one an upgraded settlement where basic provision was on a more acceptable level, shared facilities remained a source of conflict. Both women and children said that water problems had led to many fights among residents. According to one woman: “There are at least 20 houses that take water from this tap. Water comes only from 2pm to 4pm and everybody gets into fights saying ‘you have taken more, no you have taken more water!’ Then these fights get out of hand. Sometimes they will be hitting and pulling hair and talking bad about the other person’s families and all that. Sometimes the water comes very slowly and everybody gets impatient.’ These women felt that, given the increasing water scarcity in the region, these squabbles would only get worse. 215 In an apartment building in the same upgraded settlement, families continued to share toilets, although only with 2 or 3 other households rather than 50 or 60. Even so, this shared space created discord.“The toilet is a big problem!” explained one woman. “People from the other apartments do not keep it clean. We’re always fighting with them because of this. We clean up when we use it…they should also do that, right? But they 213

Taussig 2003 Nallari fieldnotes 2012 215 Nallari fieldnotes 2012 214


never do… they always leave it dirty and smelly. The men drink and come in at night and dirty up the toilet. Then in the morning all the women fight saying ‘Your husband did this! Your husband did this!’ This is how the fights start.” Within these fraught settings, opportunities can become ever more restricted for children as adults attempt to control common space. When they first moved into this apartment building, children enjoyed playing together on the roof and gathering together to eat there in the evening. It didn’t take long for adults to decide that this was a nuisance and to forbid rooftop access to children. Initially, the children also played behind the building in a small triangle of vacant land. But very quickly this was seized by local men as a place to park motorcycles and scooters. These kinds of restrictions can hardly be considered the equivalent of violence, but when children tap into adult frustrations, it can cause unpleasantness. Just as overcrowded household living can encourage more harsh discipline by parents, frustrations over common space can result in generally hostile attitudes towards children. Boys attempting to play cricket in tight space, for example, can stir up irritation that sometimes erupts into angry confrontations. One boy describes the problem: Before, we used to play here (in the open areas within the apartment complex), and they would not shout at us so much. But then we started to break glass and all that and then one mother would complain to another and then the mummies would get into fights and then the daddies would get into fights and it used to get very bad. So they are very strict now and they don’t let us play anymore. 216 Tensions and conflict among neighbors often come out around violations of norms related to the use of local space or to boundaries within it – dogs being left outdoors to bark; trash being placed too close to a neighbor’s house; noise from some activity creating a disturbance. In the narratives of young people from the former Yugoslavia, it is revealing how frequently conflict in their surroundings is sparked by such physical and spatial violations: neighbours arguing over who painted the graffiti in a building; women fighting over chickens crossing a property line; jostling for space on a crowded bus escalating into a brawl; anger around a man taking more than his fair share of parking space.217 Do these events generate conflict, or are they simply an occasion to express it? When these clashes are endemic and are accompanied by more deep-seated tensions, as in the former Yugoslavia, or in settlements where ethnic groups live side by side in an uneasy peace, there is always the fear that irritation can flare into violence. And young children are often the first to feel the effects. These examples all indicate how physical circumstances can play a part in eroding social capital or preventing it from forming. Evidence from the United States demonstrates the connections between child maltreatment and the strength of local social networks. Sampson and colleagues, for instance, looked at the level of “collective efficacy” within neighbourhoods, pointing to three aspects critical to the well being of children: the links between adults and children within a community; the intensity of interaction among adults on child rearing issues; and the level of informal control of and support for children. These traits are compromised, they argue, in areas where disadvantage is 216 217

Nallari fieldnotes 2013 Daiute and Lucić 2008


concentrated, and where families are isolated from supportive resources. Even strong personal ties may not be enough to overcome the concentration of distrust and economic hardship in order to develop the kind of shared expectations and collective action for children that can be strongly protective. 218 Although this body of research is US based, it has clear relevance for the behaviour described in India and its implications for young children. These children may or may not be exposed to higher levels of maltreatment at home – but clearly their harassment and restriction within this local neighborhood is related to the frayed social capital that accompanies dense living and limited space. Stressful environments and mental fatigue A body of research from the United States and Europe has pointed to the chronic mental fatigue that can accompany noisy crowded city living.219 People living in poverty are arguably at highest risk since even the most basic concerns can require endless problem solving and attention. Constant demands on attention, combined with a stressful environment, heighten irritability and aggression. This mental fatigue research is closely related to work investigating the restorative quality of natural environments, which finds that exposure to natural surroundings causes blood pressure to drop and levels of stress to fall. From the perspective of this research, the lack of vegetation, parks and natural surroundings plays a role in the stress experienced by many low-income residents. In a series of studies over a number of years with low-income residents from housing projects in Chicago, Frances Kuo, William Sullivan and their colleagues explored the effects of proximity to vegetation. They were able to compare residents of buildings surrounded by greenery to those living in identical buildings where landscaping efforts had not taken root. Because these public housing residents were randomly assigned to buildings, the situation was in effect a natural controlled experiment. They found that residents in the green buildings were more outgoing and significantly more likely to know their neighbours. They also reported less crime, less aggression, lower rates of domestic violence and better interactions with children among those living in the green buildings. Their multiple studies pointed in effect to the lowering of the mental fatigue associated with stressful environments.220 A few years ago, Kuo provided the following summary: “Just as rats and other laboratory animals housed in unfit environments undergo systematic break- downs in healthy, positive patterns of social functioning, so too do people. In greener settings – rooms, buildings, neighborhoods, and larger areas with more vegetation, we find that people are more generous and more desirous of connections with others; we find stronger neighborhood social ties and greater sense of community, more mutual trust and willingness to help others; and we find evidence of healthier social functioning in neighborhood common spaces – more (positive) social interaction in those spaces, greater shared use of spaces by adults and children. In less green environments, we find higher rates of aggression, violence, violent crime, and 218 219


Sampson, Morenoff and Earls 1999 Kuo and Sullivan 2001, Evans 2003, Kaplan 1987 Kuo et al 1998


property crime – even after controlling for income and other differences. We also find more evidence of loneliness and more individuals reporting inadequate social support.221 Kuo and her colleagues find that even a “low dose” of vegetation can have a restorative effect on mental energy. 222 Unfortunately, no similar research has been undertaken in low-income countries to provide support for these contentions in other contexts. Evidence from other countries does, however, point to how much children around the world are drawn to natural surroundings, especially in the context of challenging urban environments. The international Growing up in Cities research found almost without exception that when children from low income urban neighborhoods documented their surroundings and talked about their priorities, they spoke repeatedly about safe natural areas as a vital part of a good place to live.223 In Delhi, after a forced eviction, children were insistent on the need for plants and trees in the barren site allocated for their resettlement.224 In posttsunami Tamil Nadu also, while adults focused on regaining livelihoods and permanent housing, children raised concerns about the desolate, unshaded landscape left by the wave and the need for trees.225 In a book soon to be published, Louise Chawla writes about the restorative quality of natural environments for children who have faced conflict, disasters and other hardships.226 A number of factors have been noted to relieve neighbourhood tensions and to help build social capital – including the provision of more open space within neighbourhoods, the availability of dedicated recreational space, housing layouts that provide safe transitional space for young children – but also adequate provision for the basic necessities such as water, toilets, waste removal and drainage that can end up contributing so greatly to the stress experienced by residents of poorly served areas. Local levels of provision as a safety concern The dearth of basic services within neighbourhoods can heighten stress among neighbors, but can also have more significant implications for the safety of children, adolescents and women. As McIlwaine describes it in the context of gender-based violence, “…there are marked concentrations [of violence] in slum communities where poverty, gang violence, low-quality sanitary facilities, widespread sale of alcohol, and an urban environment that lacks street lighting, and secluded, un-policed spaces, are more likely to trigger violence against women.”227 Experimental research from Medellin, Colombia, provides hard evidence of declines in levels of violence in neighbourhoods with focused improvements in services and facilities, 228 as will be discussed in more detail in the responses section.


Kuo 2010 Kuo and Sullivan 2001 223 Chawla ed 2001 224 Chatterjee 2007 225 Conversations with communities a year after the tsunami, Tamil Nadu, India. 226 Chawla in press 227 McIlwaine 2013 228 Cerda et al 2012 222


When children from four low-income neighborhoods in Johannesburg assessed their local environments, most of the problems they identified highlighted this link between provision and personal safety. Crossing lights that didn’t work and that resulted in long waits to get across busy streets exposed them to harassment. Streets without adequate lighting and parks without security measures limited recreational possibilities and compromised their safety. Inadequate waste removal encouraged open space to be taken over for drug dealing and clandestine sex, limiting the children’s options for using these sites for play. Inadequate public transport forced them to rely on often predatory taxi drivers. Bars and liquor stores on every corner meant negotiating their way past drunks to reach home. 229 These kinds of complaints are repeated by boys and girls around the world, and are also factors contributing to insecurity for women.230 Transportation Obstacles to getting around safely, as the Johannesburg children indicate, are fundamental to the sense of risk that they experience. Caren Levy, one of the pioneers in gender-based research on transportation, argues that issues with transport reflect deeper structural concerns around social relations in society. One of the aspects most frequently considered in her work and that of other feminist scholars is the level of harassment and sexual abuse that women are forced to face in their attempts to move around their cities and settlements.231 Levy cites a study from Delhi which summarizes many of the problems women experience, and which calls to mind the perspectives of the Johannesburg children: “Women are the targets of sexual harassment while travelling to work and practically every woman interviewed had anecdotal evidence of suffering from the same. Harrassment while walking down the street or travelling on a bus is a common occurrence for working women and is exacerbated by the absence of adequate lighting on streets, subways and by the small, lonely paths connecting the slum with the bus stops.”232 There is little or no systematic or targeted research from the South considering the situation for children on this front. Yet it is a topic that children themselves frequently raise when talking about their lives. Mabala and Cooksey report that in Tanzania, where children pay only a fraction of the adult ticket price on buses, the drivers can be reluctant to take them on board for that reason. Girls may feel unable to turn down the overtures of drivers and conductors if they want to reach school. 233 Public transportation can be hazardous, but so is its absence. In Nigeria, girls who lived far from school said that they were often forced to accept rides from men, which put them in the “owing position” (p 207) 234 Problems with adequate provision relate not only to harassment but to high rates of traffic-related injury, in many cases a clear situation of selective neglect on the part of 229

Kruger and Chawla 2005 McIlwaine 2013 231 Levy 2013 232 Anand and Tiwari 2006 233 Mabala and Cooksey 2008 234 Barker .and Rich 1992. 230


authorities. In a growing number of countries, road traffic injuries are beginning to replace disease as the primary cause of death for children.235 Children walking to school, running errands, playing with their friends, are all vulnerable to absent or deteriorating sidewalks and the lack of safe crossing places, poor visibility and general confusion on crowded streets, and the total absence of safe places for play. A study in Lima, Peru, typical of findings from many other countries, found that the majority of injuries involved children between 5 and 9, primarily boys, and occurred while they were walking to the market, playing in the street, or attempting to cross in non-designated areas. 236 The relatively lower number of girls involved reflects the more general restriction of girls in public space. Sanitation The absence of adequate provision for sanitation is a common reason for heightened fear about violence and abuse. Both open defecation and the use of unpatrolled community facilities is considered dangerous in many places. In Nairobi’s informal settlements, where only 24 percent of households have private toilets, most people have to walk for several minutes to reach a public latrine. Most of the girls and women interviewed by Amnesty International said that using latrines at night was out of the question because of the ever-present danger of rape.237 A 2013 dispatch from Slum Dwellers International focuses on the issue in Mukuru, Narirobi. Doris, a local resident points to the cramped alleyways between shacks in her settlement, flooded and filthy, where women and children relieve themselves at night. 
 “Getting to the toilet at night is very difficult,” says Doris, “They are closed, so you have to get an alternative. So we come to the bush, and it is very risky. You have to get two or three women to escort you. If you do not come with two or three people, it is a rape case and it will never be reported. Some women fear to escort you… As women we are in a very, very risky place.” 238 In a peri-urban settlement outside Johannesburg, neighbouring girls always arranged to accompany one another to the local latrines, and were especially fearful after dark.239 In her description of conditions in Bangalore slums, Anupama Nallari provides rich detail on the difficulties for women and young girls around the use of community facilities. According to one mother: “with the older girls we are always scared that something will happen. I go with them sometimes, but sometimes they have to go by themselves. Who knows who will be hanging around outside? Till now nothing has happened, but these are bad times, and if something happens these girls' lives will be ruined forever!’ The social and psychological implications of poor provision This Bangalore mother’s concern about her daughter’s reputation is a good reminder of the social aspect of provision. Young girls are anxious not only about the possibility of physical harm, but just as much for the harm to their reputations. This is a concern around going to school as well. Parents often resist sending girls when there is any 235

Hofman et al 2005 Donroe et al 2008 237 Amnesty International 2010international Publications 238 SDI 2013 239 Personal observation 236


distance to cover out of fear of harassment, but also with their daughters’ reputations in mind. Once this has been sullied, as the Bangalore mother suggests, their lives may be ruined forever. Celine d’Cruz of Shack Dwellers International points to the same set of issues: “The young girls on the pavements of Byculla or the daughters of Khaylisha in Cape Town and Payatas in Manila and settlements all over Asia, Africa and Latin America face the same vulnerabilities: harassment, provocation, early pregnancies or worse. Their parents are constantly worried even at work and within their limited options they try to find a safe haven for their girls. The most common solution is to marry them off very young.”240 For children especially, one of the most challenging aspects of poverty is the degree of shame they feel around their material conditions.241 Using a filthy public toilet can be frightening, but also humiliating. Piles of uncollected trash, bad smells, and run-down surroundings are often experienced by children as painful reflections of their own worth.242 The experience of stigma is a potent source of stress.243 Whether it can be considered a form of violence is another question. To the extent that this discussion stretches to include the structural violence endemic to inequitable systems, stigma is a crucial consideration. Swart- Kruger describes the experience of children in an unserved squatter camp on a patch of vacant land in central Johannesburg. The squatters were blamed for the increase in local crime and the drop in property values. Children described the disgust and anger directed at them by neighbours of all races, which made them reluctant to use neighbourhood resources. They tried to clean themselves in bathrooms at a local shopping center, but had to do so furtively. Those attending local schools were careful not to reveal where they lived, fearful of ridicule and rejection.244 When this community was evicted and relocated miles away from the city on barren land, water had to be trucked in, and they were often without supplies for days at a time. A film documenting the children’s lives (Children of Thula Mntwana) indicates how shameful they found it not to be able to wash. One boy explained that when there was no water, he could not attend school because it would be too shameful to arrive unclean.245 In Kathmandu also, children who lived in a squatter settlement by the river spoke of their unwillingness to reveal where they lived for fear of contempt and harassment. 246 What these children experience is the vivid sense of being less than fully human by virtue of their surroundings. They embody deprivation. Systems over which they have no control dictate that they live in sub-human conditions, ergo they must be sub-human and can expect to be treated as such. Their foul surroundings, by some perverse logic, explain and justify their treatment as the despised other. These filthy people, by this logic, do not 240

D’Cruz and Mudimu 2013 Boyden et al 2003 242 Chawla (Ed) 2001 243 Major and O'Brien 2005 244 Kruger 2001 245 GUIC 2001 246 Save the Children Norway 2002 241


deserve to have their waste collected. The sense of exclusion is only heightened by the fact that for those in unserved settlements addressing basic needs can become criminalized– as residents collect water illegally from wells belonging to others, dispose of waste illegally, or tap illegally into electric lines that fail to reach their settlement. This sense of stigma does not come just from outsiders. According to Jo Boyden and colleagues, “Children recognize that frequently they are themselves the main instigators of abuses directed at others due to their poverty. In fact one of the worst consequences of being thought of as ‘poor’ is the associated social exclusion and susceptibility to teasing, bullying and denigration by peers” (p 32).247 Contempt can also come from adults in their own communities. Children and young people in a low-income barrio in Buenos Aires spoke of how judged they felt by their own neighbours when they hung out with friends on the corner – la esquina – behaviour that is associated by adults with gang members. The young people acknowledged that gang members did hang out on street corners, but the truth was that there was no other place to socialize with friends. Standing around on the corner, they insisted, did not necessarily mean you were up to no good. 248 The same response comes from young people in Northern Ireland: “When we’re on the corners we’re just gettin’ together, havin’ a laugh. But straight away they [adults] see it as a threat … Anti-social behaviour is simply congregatin’ in a group. Just bein’ together with your pals is targeted as anti-social. You want to tell them that you’re bein’ social, not anti-social. They wouldn’t get it!” (p.14) 249 Police protection Lower levels of police protection often go hand in hand with an absence of provision on every other front.250 Research in some violent low-income Guatamalan neighborhoods, for instance, revealed that one community had been in existence for 26 years before a police station was established.251 In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, over half the homicides were found to be the result of community mob violence, most often a response to thieves in the absence of formal policing and security.252 Even where there is a police presence, the relationship can be ambiguous and conflicted in poor neighbourhoods. A young woman from Barrio San Jorge in Buenos Aires, for instance, describes her neighborhood as safer than it used to be – but this is clearly in spite of the police, not because of them. “Before you couldn’t go into the barrio alone, but now you can, everything is OK, it’s more quiet. Before, taxis wouldn’t come in because of fear of being robbed. When the neighbour got out at his or her house, the driver would get robbed. Today, the ambulance has problems getting in because of the state of the roads. If it does come in, it comes with three police cars to guard it. The police don’t walk much around the barrio. A while back they were posted outside the barrio to control the robbed cars coming in. But they aren’t stealing so many cars now, so the police have left. If there are robbed cars still coming in, it’s from outside people who have arrangements with people within the barrio to


Boyden et al 2003 Hardoy et al 2010 249 McAlister, Haydon and Scraton 2013 250 Winton 2004 251 Winton 2007 248


dismantle the car. It would be great if we could all help each other and defend ourselves because police officers often can’t do anything.” The ambiguity is understandable. Police responses can include everything from the welcome monitoring of anti-social and threatening activity to selective repression and even disappearances and torture. What for some citizens is valued protection for others might be the source of anxiety or even extreme fear. In New York City, the notorious “stop and frisk” policy, which the police commissioner credits with bringing the crime rate to a new low, has involved over 1.2 million stops over a two year period, 88 percent of them young men of colour in poor neighbourhoods. The rationale is the higher rates of crime in these neighbourhoods – yet less than 1 percent of the stops have turned up a weapon, and for the tens of thousands of boys and young men involved, the repeated stops make neighbourhood life a source of anger and chronic anxiety.253 The complexity and ambiguity of the situation as it affects young children is well illustrated by current events in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Over recent years in Rio, attempts to clean up drug dealing and related violence in the city’s favelas in the lead up to the FIFA World Cup in 2014 has led to the development of the UPP program, or “police pacification units”. Police in large numbers have undertaken raids in specific neighborhoods (most often those favelas adjoining middle class neighborhoods) in order to liberate them from the violent territorial control of powerful drug gangs.254 The authorities have presented this as being quite different from police crackdowns in the past. The process has involved going into favelas, confiscating weapons, giving traffickers the chance to leave or to surrender, and then establishing local community police stations and public services.255 According to some reports, this initiative has resulted in a significant reduction in homicides and has been very positively received. The streets are safer and in addition the community police have initiated many activities for children. There are also critics however, and there have reportedly been mixed feelings about the initiative within the favelas, with some residents claiming they feel far less secure than they did when drug lords ruled their neighborhoods. The London-based Financial Times quotes one small business owner:, “Safer? No, it’s less safe! All the police go home about 8pm or 9pm,” she says. “I’ve now put up bars on my windows where I live.”256 There are also the questionable methods used by the elite raid units, which involve forced house to house hunts for drugs and arms. These raids can be terrifying for young children. A report on the initiative by Stephanie Stahlberg argues that these are still early days in the programme, that citizen distrust is well founded given the long experience of police in the city as corrupt, ineffective and often operating well outside the law themselves; but that authentic community policing in concert with other services, once a neighbourhood has 252

Outwater et al 2008; 254 Souza Mulli 2011 255 Fraser 2011 256 Leahy and Pearson 2011 253


been “pacified”, has been showing overall positive results, with new opportunities in these neighborhoods for children and their families.257 Another problem that is emerging however is the uneven allocation of resources. Only about 20 favelas out of over 1000 have been the targets of UPP, and only some favelas are receiving the social development programs that are being brought to the pacified areas. The plan to put an end to a divided city, according to Verena Brähler, may instead be creating divided favelas.258 The genuinely community-based police panchayats in Mumbai and Pune, India, are a less ambiguous success, and have managed to build a successful community-police collaboration to compensate for the absence of police protection in informal communities.259 These will be discussed in more detail in the responses section. Hot spots and environmental design factors Even in neighbourhoods plagued by insecurity and violent incidents, problems are generally quite place-specific. Susan Liebermann and Justine Coulson, in a report on the community identification of problem places in South Africa, point out that crimes do not happen randomly, but because specific opportunities present themselves in particular places – dark paths and lanes, isolated bus stops, public latrines and other “hotspots”.260 The notion that features of the physical environment can contribute to criminal or violent behaviour is not new. Considerable research links specific features of local space and antisocial behavior. Two classic contributions are Oscar Newman’s work on “defensible space”,261 and Jane Jacobs’ insights into the quality of safe urban neighborhoods.262 Newman’s research indicated that such factors as building height, layout, and the number of people sharing an entrance can affect the level of ownership and control that people feel over their space, and with it the incidence of crime. Jacobs stressed the dangers of areas that do not allow for “eyes on the street” and that decrease the potential for informal surveillance. By contrast, well lit streets, windows that face onto the street, neighbourhood enterprises and public spaces that are welcoming and well kept all increase the control that residents have over their surroundings, contributing to an active community presence and to more constructive interaction. Active street level commercial activity can help ensure the steady flow of people in an area, increasing security for all. There are three things to keep in mind with this body of research. It has been conducted primarily in high-income countries; it is focused more on property crime than on violence; and there have been conflicting findings.263 Current research suggest that an overly simplistic or deterministic stance regarding these physical features can be misleading. While incidents tend to be clustered in particular “hot spots”, these places exist within the context of a constellation of factors that can be difficult to untangle. 257

Stahlberg 2011/in progress Brahler 2012 259 Roy et al 2004 260 Liebermann and Coulson 2004 261 Newman1972 262 Jacobs1961 263 O'Grady 2011 258


Some research, for example, finds the presence of adequate street lighting to be a major factor in reducing incidents of crime; yet a large study in London found no evidence that lighting reduced either crime or people’s sense of safety. 264 Nor are people’s perceptions of unsafe hotspots always related to actual events: a survey of public housing residents in Baltimore, for instance, identified a place where young people gathered to drink and play music as the most dangerous spot in the area, despite the fact that no crime had actually ever occurred there.265 The Marcus Garvey Village in Brownsville, New York City, is an example of the complexity of the issues. This was one of the more celebrated applications of Newman’s principles – carefully designed low income housing built in the 1970s, consisting of over 600 apartments which had little in common architecturally with the crime-ridden public housing projects in the city. Apartment doors opened to the outside, and there was both communal courtyard space and private backyards. But rather than providing residents with a greater sense of control and stronger community ties, the housing became a notorious home base for criminal and gang activity. Currently, an oppressive police presence keeps all residents indoors. Brownsville was always poor, and it is now poorer than ever. According to Ginia Bellafante, who reported on the project in the New York Times, “Mindful design can accomplish little divorced from broad, aggressive strategies to fight social inequality.”266 While physical features of the environment can affect people’s behavior, there are no hard and fast connections between these design features and the extent of the violence that people may be experiencing. Despite some resistance to overly simplistic applications of “crime prevention through environmental design” (CPTED), a fairly large body of literature continues to support the claim that these approaches can be effective in lowering the amount of crime and insecurity in a community.267 Some particular principles continue to be found useful: features that maximize visibility and support surveillance; symbolic and real barriers that deny access; territorial behaviour and indications of ownership.268 It can be appreciated, however, that these same principles can in some situations serve the interests of those causing the insecurity, as in the Marcus Garvey Village. Most of this research still comes from high-income countries,269 although there are increasingly examples from other countries. Discussion of the CPTED approach within the context of low income countries has tended to stress the degree to which disparities in living conditions contribute to the chain of causes of criminal activity, and to point to the importance of achieving greater spatial integration. It also emphasizes the need for very locally specific and participatory responses to crime and violence. In South Africa, for example, Karina Landman and Susan Lieberman, while drawing on more generic CPTED guidelines, stress the importance of local workshops to ensure the involvement of 264

Atkins, Husain and Storey 1991 Wilson and Kelling 1982 266 Bellafante 2013 267 for instance, see Cozens, Saville, Hillier 2005 268 Cozens, Saville, Hiller 2005 269 Hedayati Marzbali et al 2012 265


residents and to encourage cooperation between residents and police in neighborhoods where mistrust may be more common.270 There is a fine example from Delhi, where municipal authorities decided on a courtyard design for resettlement housing on the fringes of the city. Housing around a central courtyard has been a traditional solution in India, as in many other places, since it provides small scale shared space separated from the larger public domain, a protected place where small children can play while women work. This pattern is also compatible with CPTED principles. But during a workshop arranged by local NGOs, women and young girls rejected this plan. They argued that they were unwilling to share enclosed courtyard space with unfamiliar neighbors. Their chances of being harassed by drunken men, who usually stayed home during the day, were far higher than they would be if their houses opened onto the street. And so the plan was changed. 271 The point is that environmental features can affect social relations and behaviour, but that solutions have to take account of local experience rather than just generic principles. A related approach to CPTED, also controversial, is the “broken windows” theory according to which social disorder as well as disrepair in the physical environment, whether garbage in streets, graffiti or general dilapidation, stimulate anti-social behaviour and even lead to higher rates of crime and violence.272 In Milwaukee, USA, for instance, neighbourhoods with multiple foreclosures and many deteriorating houses were reported by the local police chief to have violent crime rates four times higher than the city average.273 This theory has led to a good deal of “zero tolerance” policing in the United States, which some observers argue has resulted in significant improvements in levels of property and violent crime in some cities. The so called “stop and frisk” policy in New York City is an example of this trend. But there has been considerable disagreement on the actual reasons for these improvements, or whether violence is actually even related to measures of physical (or social) disorder. Robert Sampson and Stephen Raudenbush tested the association of systematically observed disorder, social and physical, with official recorded crime rates in Chicago. They demonstrate that these phenomena are not related in a cause-effect way, but rather are both expressions of underlying factors – specifically the degree of concentrated structural disadvantage in an area, and the (resulting) lowered levels of collective efficacy. Their conclusion is that “Attacking public disorder through tough police tactics may thus be a politically popular but perhaps analytically weak strategy to reduce crime, mainly because such a strategy leaves the common origins of both, but especially the last, untouched (p 638). They do argue, however, that collective efforts among residents to address disorder can strengthen local ties and thus end up over the long run in lowering rates of violence.274


Landman and Liebermann 2005 Chatterjee 2007 272 Wilson and Kelling 1982 273 Walker 2013 274 Sampson and Raudenbush 1999 271


No work that I’m aware of has explored these neighbourhood links in a systematic comparative way within the global South. Even within the USA, there has been little methodical attention to the implications for young children of neighbourhood level chaos and disorder, despite the fact that household level findings point clearly to negative effects for physical and mental health and emotional, social and cognitive competence.275 Especially in places where domestic life spills over into surrounding neighbourhoods, like the informal settlements that are home to so many millions of children worldwide, one can only assume that these effects exist in a continuum rather than at two discrete levels. Spatial segregation As noted earlier, poor neighborhoods have significantly higher rates of crime and violence for a number of reasons. While being poor does not in itself cause people to be violent, it has been widely found that inequalities between groups and the inequitable distribution of resources can have a strong impact on levels of conflict and violence – along with health and educational achievement.276 Especially in areas of concentrated poverty, the absence of markets, employment, amenities, institutions and capital all restrict opportunity and contribute to frustration. These inequities are especially visible in places where various forms of spatial segregation are used to separate the affluent from the poor. In many parts of the world, urban space is increasingly being reorganized in response to crime and violence and to a lack of confidence in the state’s capacity to provide security. In growing numbers of cities, the wealthy live in private gated communities, enclosed neighbourhoods or fortified enclaves, surrounded by private security systems. These hard spatial boundaries segregate the middle class and wealthy from growing numbers of those in poverty, reinforcing inequalities and concentrating privilege in archipelagos. People in these enclosed spaces no longer make use of public space – or they co-opt it for private uses. This contributes to spatial fragmentation and can undermine any sense of solidarity among urban dwellers in dealing with social problems. In Managua, Nicaragua, Dennis Rodgers describes a network of high speed roads connecting the residential, commercial and leisure worlds of the rich, and leaving the remainder of the city to crumble into neglected and unpoliced slums where people go out as little as possible.277 Charlotte Lemanski describes the same situation in Cape Town, noting that the strategy has left both public and private spaces less safe, increasing fears and deepening segregation.278 According to Landman and Schonteich, public space in South Africa and Brazil is “now abandoned to the poor, the homeless and street children, who are left vulnerable to violence and abuse by various control groups, including criminals and the security forces.” 279


Brooks-Gunn, Johnson and Leventhal 2010; Sameroff 2010 Wilkinson and Pickett 2007; WHO 2002, chapter 8 Collective Violence 277 Rodgers 2004 278 Lemanski 2004 279 Landman and Schonteich 2002, p 80 276


This segregation is not always enforced through hard physical boundaries. In Rio, for instance, where the favelas of the poor rise up on steep hills above the wealthy neighborhoods below, there are no walls or gates to keep people out of more affluent streets and shopping malls. Social distance here, as Lorraine Leu points out, appears to be almost a “natural” product of the city’s geography, as social structures are turned over time into spatial structures. Yet, according to Barbara Fraser, children in these hundreds of favelas are as effectively cut off from the rest of the city by the social barriers as they would be by fences of barbed wire.280 Responses to the material environment are not always to its actual properties but to the symbolic interpretations of these properties and of relational arrangements they embody. In the mid 1990s, anthropologist Teresa Caldeira described the more general effects of this kind of segregation: “In the materiality of segregated spaces, in people’s everyday trajectories ... in their appropriations of streets and parks, and in their constructions of walls and defensive facades, social boundaries are rigidly constructed. Their crossing is under surveillance. When boundaries are crossed in this type of city, there is aggression, fear and a feeling of unprotectedness, in a word; there is suspicion and danger. Residents of all social groups have a sense of exclusion and restriction. For some, the feeling of exclusion is obvious, as they are denied access to various areas and are restricted to others. Affluent people who inhabit exclusive enclaves also feel restricted; their feelings of fear keep them away from regions and people that their mental maps of the city identify as dangerous.”281 Some researchers hypothesize that this spatial division contributes to the normalization of high levels of violence and insecurity into the daily life of many communities, as illegal activities and markets become more concentrated in poorer areas.282 The violence and criminality so well guarded against by the wealthy becomes directed against the poor themselves. It comes as no surprise that an attempt to analyze the spatial distribution of the growing number of homicides in Porto Alegre, Brazil, found that areas where slums were concentrated had higher homicide rates.283 Fear and insecurity pervade people’s lives through street crime, drug trafficking, a growing gang culture and police violence. What Taussig calls “terror as usual” has far reaching implications for trust and well-being among communities and individuals.284 Sometimes these destructive spatial divisions are not just between the rich and the poor, but are based on political or ethnic enmity, or on the conflict between warring gangs. In Guatamala City for instance, not only do the territorial claims of gangs restrict their own movement beyond clearly defined boundaries; the gangs can also lay claim to most of public space within a neighborhood, making it difficult for other residents to move about freely.285 280

Fraser 2011 Caldeira PR 1996 282 Rodgers 2004; Lemanski 2004 283 Santos SM, Barcellos C, Sa Carvalho M 2006 284 Cited in her description of daily life in El Salvador by Hume 2004 285 Winton 2005 281


Bonnin explains the history of spatial divisions in one South African community, Mpumalanga Township in Natal, as an expression of allegiance to opposing political parties. Outbreaks of politically-based violence increasingly began to determine the geography of the area, as specific residential areas became identified with political affiliation, an identification that then became self-perpetuating. As in the cases of wealth inequities, the creation of what are in effect spatial enclaves can result in greater security within these neighbourhoods, but it also means more and more rigid demarcations that limit access to a range of facilities and destinations. For many families, it was these physical boundaries, rather than their political loyalties, that ended up defining where they could go and what they could do, often dividing families, restricting access to work, destroying assets of all kinds, and limiting opportunities for children. 286 These kinds of divisions remain evident at a country-wide level in Northern Ireland, where even in the post-conflict context there is a continued legacy of place-based identity, separation and violence. Housing, services, schools, leisure facilities all remain segregated by religious affiliation, and there are reportedly more “peace walls” dividing neighbourhoods now than there were before the ceasefires. Violent outbreaks are sporadic but common. Young children, according to recent research, remain “cocooned” within their local neighbourhoods, while older children report feeling imprisoned in areas with few opportunities, unable to negotiate safely through areas occupied by the other community. “Those working closely with young people,” according to the researchers, “note a lack of purpose, identity and belonging which manifests itself in violence towards others or the self.” 287 The ever-present undercurrent of violence, along with “buried trauma”, spills over into family relationships, resulting in aggressive parenting and domestic violence which is, according to one community member, “part of a way of life.” Scott Bollens refers to the organized hatred that is expressed through these spatial divisions in many of the world’s cities – including Sarajevo, Berlin, Jerusalem and Nicosia. 288 These boundaries, whether buffer zones, walls, no-man’s lands, razor wire fences or less physical, more symbolic, barriers, are fault lines in a society, both manifestations of contested space and historical records of violence. They more often than not signify deep disparities as well as political or ethnic differences. The expression of identity and difference through place can perpetuate hostility by anchoring it to the concrete reality of physical territory and markers of past violence. As Arjun Appadurai points out, the violence is not just the product of antagonistic identities; it can also be the way in which identity is produced and confirmed.289 This spatially-entrenched violence can be especially evident in occupied zones. Jason Hart points out that the risks faced by Palestinian children are related not so much to conflict as it is generally understood, but to the fact of Israel’s occupation, enclosure, concentration and sometimes destruction of their living space. “… homes themselves are 286

Bonnin, 2004 McAlister, Haydon, Scraton 2013, p 10 288 Bollens 2001 289 Appadurai 2006 287


routinely destroyed on the grounds that they were built without (unobtainable) permits. Between 2007 and 2011 nearly 1,000 children were made homeless in this way. Assumptions about the ability of family and community to secure the most immediate space of children’s lives and afford them protection, which lie at the core of the spatialised approach, are clearly questionable in light of such experiences.” 290

The impact of violent neighborhoods for children’s opportunities It is difficult to shelter children effectively from endemic local violence, regardless of the source. Rates of exposure are extreme in some places. In Jamaica, for instance, out of a large urban sample of 11 and 12 year olds in 2005, a quarter had been present during acts of severe physical violence and 20 percent had been personally threatened or robbed. One in 12 of these children had been stabbed, and over a third had experienced the loss of a friend or family member to murder.291 In Cape Town and Nairobi, over 80 percent of a representative sample of adolescents had experienced at least one episode of traumatic violence – they had been present during episodes of violence, had been robbed or mugged themselves, or had witnessed a family member being hurt or killed.292 Children’s exposure to violence is not usually this extreme, but the need to accommodate to some level of danger and insecurity is a routine part of many children’s lives. Mobility The most immediate outcome is a restriction in the mobility of children and adolescents, and this is especially true for girls. Research with Mexican-American girls found that their level of outdoor physical activity was significantly related to the incidence of violent crime in the vicinity.293 In Allahabad, India, boys and girls agreed that there were no places within their neighbourhoods where girls could safely socialize together.294 In the context of violence, the street can be constructed as the site of masculine power, with women and girls expected to stay away. There is the sense that girls are behaving inappropriately simply by being in the public domain, especially once they reach puberty, and this may increase their risk; when toilets, water sources, schools are at a distance, this can create a difficult bind. Fatma El Nahry argues that this kind of harassment is specifically intended to control girls’ and women’s access to public space: “...despite claims made by men, harassment is not a harmless, direct reaction by men to women, but an institutionalized system of violence that functions to police women's participation, freedom of movement, and behaviour in public spaces. It is not how women behave in the public sphere that makes them vulnerable to street harassment; it is that they have chosen to enter the public sphere at all.”295 Based on the testimony of numerous young girls, the same claims can be made for them. Even in they have not yet experienced harassment, they and their 290

Hart 2013 Samms-Vaughn, Jackson, Ashley 2005 292 Seedat et al 2004 293 Gomez et al 2004 294 Sebastian, Grant and Mensch 2005 295 El Nahry 2012 291


young brothers have watched older sisters, mothers, neighbours facing this kind of systematic discrimination. But boys can be affected as well. In low income settlements in Guatamala City, children and young people revealed that, other than going out for school or work, they spent almost no time away from home. In the context of pervasive gang activity, their options were “avoidance, compliance or engagement.” Avoidance was the simplest choice for those who chose not to become gang members themselves, and on average, these young people were in public space for less than an hour a day.296 According to a girl in South Africa, “There’s just nothing good because on every corner there’s gangsters and we’re very scared to walk past them now and I don’t want to play actually outside .. there’s no safe place to play.” 297 In a challenged neighborhood in New York City, Cahill reports that, “Every student’s neighbourhood description was saturated with stories of the drug culture and the dangers associated with it, including the ‘weird’ or violent people who deal or use drugs, and crime. Both girls and boys discussed the limitations on their freedom in the neighbourhood imposed by the drug culture, race issues, police surveillance, the dearth of places to go where they felt welcome, and fear, which restricts their movement, often keeping them at home.”298 And yet children and adolescents do continue in many cases to make use of their less than safe neighborhoods, drawing on a range of strategies that help them feel safe. Cahill’s young New York adolescents, despite the constraints they felt in their neglected and degraded neighborhood, developed rules, based on experience, for negotiating their local surroundings. Cahill discusses their “street literacy” and the “language of street practices and strategies for staying safe, or more importantly, for enabling them to at least feel safe.” The “mind your own business” rule, for example, is fundamental to staying safe. You don’t meet people’s eyes.299 Researchers from Belfast and South Africa also discuss the sophisticated street knowledge that is necessary for children to be able to manage risk and stay safe in fraught areas.300 In cities or areas where there is conflict along group lines, whether ethnic, religious, or related to some other source of difference and tension, it is commonly in the “ interface” areas, where the territories of different groups adjoin one another, that children are most likely to feel at risk, and they are careful to avoid the more fraught areas..301 Younger children Most of this research on responses to local violence points to the implications for older children and adolescents. What do these contested landscapes mean to very young children? Bree Akesson points out that research on young children has focused more on the longer term psychological impacts of exposure than on the everyday experience of living in neighbourhoods torn by violence.302 But there are some useful exceptions. James 296

Winton 2007 Parkes 2007 page 406 298 Cahill 2000 p 262 299 Cahill 2000 300 Leonard 2010; Parkes 2007 301 Leonard 2010 302 Akesson 2012 297


Spilsbury documents the strategies of children as young as seven in Cleveland, from both high and low violence neighborhoods, in response to hypothetical scenarios during which they would be in need of help. These children showed a well-developed capacity to interpret features of their local environment and to seek help from others while minimally compromising their own safety. For instance, they might accept a stranger’s offer to call their parents, but would not accept a ride home.303 Research demonstrates that even at a fairly young age, children can develop a deeply rooted sectarian view of their surroundings.304 Although the negotiation of local space in Belfast, for instance, becomes more of an issue as children get older and are permitted greater mobility, the vigilance begins far earlier. According to Connolly and Healy, by the age of three children in Irish interface areas are able to distinguish between Catholics and Protestants.305 Focusing on neighbourhoods of concentrated poverty in Lisbon, Carvalho also describes quite young children demonstrating their “astute” awareness of local violence and the physical and social disorders surrounding it (including broken streetlights, fights in bars, easy access to drugs and weapons), with younger children (aged 6 to 9) significantly more critical of the situation than the 10 to 13 year old group.306 Akesson explores the meaning of contested local space for very young children in the occupied Palestinian territories. Their neighbourhood access, she says, is constantly moderated by day-to-day circumstances. During periods of “fragile calm”, children of all ages play freely in the streets, often without adult supervision. When violence erupts, they peer through barred windows. They are, in Akesson’s words, “constantly negotiating access to places by testing boundaries and engaging in creative placemaking despite the restrictions of caregivers and the restraints of conflict settings”.307 Access to street play for these children, when it is possible, becomes not only a way to meet the more common needs of childhood, but also a way to process the particular conditions they live within, both venting emotions and trying through play to make sense, with other children, of the violent events that they see taking place around them. One of the most powerful accounts of the day-to-day realities of living in extreme violence is still Alex Kotlowitz’s now classic 1991 account of the lives of two young brothers and their four year old triplet siblings in neglected and rundown Chicago public housing, an area which gang activity had turned into the equivalent of a war zone. Kotlowitz describes the bloodstains on the stairwell, the bullet holes in the living room curtains and in the boys’ bedroom windows, the narrow interior corridor where the boys and their mother and the triplets take refuge during night-time gun fights from high rise to high rise between rival gangs. He recounts the sheer terror of nine-year-old Pharoah, walking home from school when fighting breaks out; he bangs on the door to be let in, but cannot be heard over the noise of the gunfire. This child takes refuge from his 303

Spilsbury 2002 Leonard 2010, McAlister, Haydon, Scraton 2013 305 Connolly and Healy 2004 306 Carvalho 2012 307 Akesson 2012 p 6 304


terrifying environment by refusing to acknowledge it. When he has free time he walks to a more affluent building complex nearby and lies with his eyes closed on the green lawn, imagining a better world. The four-year-olds do not have even this freedom.308 The day to day experience of local violence for young children is often filtered through the stress of those around them. Especially in low income settlements with crowded housing, domestic violence can spill out into common space, subjecting children even from peaceful households to the disturbing reality of violence. The overlap between the community violence and levels of abuse at home has also been well documented.309 Restrictions around play in neighbourhood space, for instance, keeps children underfoot at home and can raise the general level of domestic tension, especially when living conditions are not good. The extent to which parents fear children’s exposure to neighbourhood danger and to bad influences may also lead them to use threats and harsh physical punishment as a measure of control.310. Exposure to multiple sources of violence may be the rule more than the exception for many young children who experience abuse. A survey undertaken in the United States found that, among children over two years of age, 85 percent who had witnessed violence had also experienced some other form of victimization.311 The attraction of violence Jenny Parkes, who conducted the South African research, speaks of the complexity of the relationship to community violence for the children who participated in her study. They felt repulsed, fearful, helpless in the face of the incidents that occurred so routinely around them – but also excited sometimes and even attracted to the dangerous association of violence and masculinity. While violence disempowers and restricts them, it is also seen as a form of capital that can potentially offer a level of control and belonging.312 As in the case of divided Belfast, children are drawn to reproduce the social relations that characterize their near surroundings. If you can’t fight them, join them. Carvalho explains, in the context of Lisbon, that “For many children, violence and delinquency play a functional and instrumental role, providing attractive and rewarding forms of socialization, which vary from what they consider to be just child’s play, and fulfilling the need to obtain recognition in socially stigmatized areas.” (p 20) 313 The same attraction, starting early, is described by Barbara Fraser with reference to Rio de Janeiro. “Drug traffickers flaunt their physical and economic power with flashy motorcycles, multiple girlfriends, and guns that kids begin to crave. ‘For many young people, who lack a broader perspective and never go far from the favela, the world becomes reduced to the favela, and they want to be like that’, says Gaspar, who coordinates grassroots psychological and social programmes, including a harm-


Kotlowitz 1991 Foster and Brooks-Gunn 2009; Guterman et al 2009; Hume 2004, 310 Rasmussen, et al 2012 311 Finkelhor et al 2005. 312 Parkes 2007 313 Carvalho 2013 309


reduction programme aimed at reducing drug-related health problems. ‘Some start to think the violence is normal.’”314 From Nairobi comes another example of the way children can view local violence through a lens that gives it an aura of glamour and that can contribute to its perpetuation. The slums of Kibera and Korogocho are characterized by high levels of violence and by an equally violent resolve on the part of the state to deal with arms and those that carry them. A recent Minister for Internal Security ordered a shoot-to-kill strategy for people in possession of arms or in the company of armed gangs, with no opportunity for trial. Many men were brutally executed in these slums in broad daylight, and many children witnessed these bloodbaths. According to Irene Karanja, who lives and works in Nairobi, “They grow up associating these events with Hollywood movies, and celebrate the fallen men as heroes who are mighty and powerful enough to command the state machinery to come to the settlement. A couple of weeks ago I attended a burial of a friend’s 23 year old son. To my amazement, many girls and boys came to the grave, chanting ‘Oh Daddy, you were our hero!, ‘You died a soldier!’, ‘You have molded us and shown us the way’, ‘You are an elder!’. When a young man who has chosen a criminal way of life survives even into young adulthood, he is considered an elder. My friend’s son was an elder in this sense, and the 50 young people were there to pay their respects to a fallen leader.” Karanja, who works to support the Kenyan Federation of the Urban Poor, notes that slum upgrading and other federation activities have in many cases become a way for young criminals to become involved with tangible goals and to identify themselves with responsibilities that allow them to “abandon the gun for a bigger course.” 315 Where there are not clear alternatives, local gang activity is not only “normal” but an understandably linked to the aspirations of many children and young people. This can become the case especially where, as in Nairobi and Rio and numerous other cities, gang membership may be perceived as an honorable alternative to the violence of the authorities. The sense of belonging and security that gang membership can provide is also a powerful incentive for many young people. Winton’s analysis of gang violence in Guatamala City, for instance, suggests it is a “manifestation of young people’s need to feel part of a group in situations of multiple exclusion and the absence of alternatives.”316 The sense of exclusion often extends to home and family. Many of the young participants in her research pointed to the violence and lack of communication at home as a major reason for joining gangs. Caroline Moser similarly draws connections between violence in the home and other kinds of violence in public space. Intra-family violence pushes young men to leave home, join gangs and turn to drugs, and the consequent climate of crime and delinquency erodes local trust and social capital even further. As one young man explained to Moser, “I joined the guerrilla so I could get a gun, so I could shoot my father, and stop him beating up my mother.”317 While gang membership may not be an issue for most younger children, the conditions that cause their elder siblings to gravitate to this form of belonging, and to an acceptance of violence as the norm, start early in life. 314

Fraser 2011 Personal communication, Irene Karanja, Pamoja Trust 316 Winton 2005 p 171 317 Moser 2009 p 81 315


Schools Schools are one of the community settings where violence is most commonly experienced by children – whether from other students or from teachers. For the young children who are the primary focus of this discussion, this violence is most likely to be experienced through the high levels of physical punishment that still characterize schools in many countries. Recent research from the international Young Lives study indicates that half of the eight year olds interviewed in Andhra Pradesh, India, reported that they had been hit once or twice in the last week by their teachers.318 Many children are discouraged from starting school because of their fears of teachers and other students.319 It would be stretching the case to attribute this common practice to physical conditions in the schools, although the challenge of dealing with overly large classes in crowded conditions has been noted to predispose teachers to use the stick as a method of classroom management.320 But material conditions can contribute in other ways to the likelihood that children will be punished in school. According to one young girl in Kenya, “Some of the teachers are beating us very hard here, and they are beating even the very small girls. It’s very cruel. You can be beaten for anything: if you are feeling sleepy in class, or you are late, or dirty, or you have not done your homework, or you are given a test and you fall below the average, you may be beaten.”321 When children are late, it is often because of distance from school; when they are unable to finish homework, it can be because carrying water and other household chores take so much time, or because studying is difficult without lights or in crowded noisy homes; when they are dirty, it is generally because of the difficulty obtaining water ; when they fail tests, it may be related to the diminished concentration and cognitive functioning that accompanies intestinal worms322 – and so on. In addition to disciplinary abuse, often officially sanctioned, schools can also be the site of bullying, harassment and violence among students, and of emotional and sexual harassment and abuse by teachers. There is a considerable body of work, much of it from Africa, on the issue of violence, bullying, coercion and sexual harassment within schools. These concerns appear to be keeping many girls in particular out of school, especially within urban areas, and placing those who attend at high risk.323 Schools can be insecure spaces within a larger context of violence and poverty, where abuse and intimidation can easily take place. In Nairobi, for instance, over 20 percent of school-going children in the slums reported sexual advances from teachers compared to 6 percent of non-slum children.324 Schools can also be taken over as controlled areas for gangs, where drug sales Information from Virginia Morrow about the upcoming paper “I do not like my school, since the teachers beat me badly”: children’s experiences of corporal punishment in schools in Andhra Pradesh, India and Ethiopia” 319 Pereznieto et al 2010 320 Save the Children 2007 321 Human Rights Watch 1999 p 34. 322 Miguel and Kremer 2004 323 Mabala and Cooksey op cit 324 Mudege, Zulu and Izugbara 2008 318


and recruitment of gang members can easily take place. The high levels of intimidation interfere with learning and discourage retention.325 In the Nairobi study, weapons were noted to be common within schools in the slums, with no disciplinary action being taken by often intimidated teachers.326 Violent behaviour by students within schools is astonishingly widespread. A survey of experiences and perceptions within schools in 37 countries found that on average 28 percent of children reported being victims of violence by other students in the last month; 48 percent reported that friends had experienced violence in the last month; and 14 percent of teachers reported that their teaching was seriously limited by threats to their safety and that of their students. Although national rates of school violence were higher in low-income countries, they were unrelated to more general patterns of violence within the country and to the factors that predict higher crime rates. Rather, it was the quality of the schools themselves that affected the level of school violence experienced by children. At a national level, school systems that created a high level of disparity among students in terms of outcomes were more vulnerable to violent behaviour on the part of students, pointing to the role of frustration.327 Although this survey did not specifically point to physical environment variables, other research has suggested a link between the physical condition of schools and the type and severity of violence that occurs there. According to one review of the evidence from the United States, physical surroundings affect student behaviour, and buildings that are rundown and uncomfortable have higher levels of violence.328 Other US research has pointed to the fact that, as with neighborhood violence, violent episodes tend to occur in specific and predictable locations – primarily in stairways, hallways, eating areas, playgrounds, parking lots and other places that lack an adult presence and that tend to be undefined and “unowned.” 329 Human RightsWatch, reporting on the high prevalence of sexual harassment, intimidation and assault of schoolgirls in South Africa, argues that the school environment is an insecure space where, in a larger culture of violence, these acts can easily take place. School toilets, empty classrooms, long hallways all become sites for assault, abuse and exposure to gang violence and robbery. Schools, as noted above, become “territorial prizes”, providing gangs the controlled area they need for selling drugs or recruiting new members. The high level of intimidation makes a culture of learning impossible to achieve, and children are also cheated on this front. One girl describes the extent to which school layout and security contribute to the situation: “One of my friends who is a prefect was working at the media center and I was on my way to see her during break when [they] asked me where I was going and I said to the media center. They asked me if I was going by myself and I told them yes. I started walking there and they followed me. The media center is only about a two minute walk from the main school building but a 325

Human Rights Watch 2001 Mudege et al 2008 327 Akiba et al 2002 328 Dwyer, Osher, Hoffman 2000 329 Astor, Meyer and Behre 1999 326


teacher would not be able to see what goes on there, boys will go there to smoke because they cannot be seen. They started following me and came up behind me and pulled me behind the media center building. I felt like crying. They were trying to take my skirt off and they ripped my top. I had a button missing. There was a stick on the ground. I picked up the stick and started fighting them and they ran away.� 330 The problem is not restricted to Africa. Numerous reports from India for instance, describe an absence of sex segregated toilets and supervised playgrounds as contributing to harassment and violence.331 Northern research on bullying in schools has reported findings that could be more widely applied. Titman argued 20 years ago that the boring, barren and often hostile feeling concrete playgrounds of many schools are the perfect breeding ground for bullying. When combined with the code of silence practiced by many children, this points to the need for skilled and perceptive adult supervision (as in the case of children’s play in some neighborhoods) as well as attention to environments that are more welcoming and engaging for children. 332 The journey to and from school is also a major issue for many children and the possibility of violence or harassment along the way has been identified as a key reason for children to avoid attending school. It can also result in parents withdrawing girls in particular from school or not enrolling them in the first place.333 In the United Kingdom, one study found that 13 or 14 percent of students felt their journey to school was unsafe, and reported staying home at least once in the last month for that reason.334 Other examples were described in the section on transport. Schools also provide a location where girls can easily be targeted, especially by gangs, when they are coming and going, as pointed out by Moser and McIlwaine with reference to Colombia.335 A pair of Brazilian studies indicated that students were more subject to violence in the neighbourhoods around their schools, on their way to and from school, than in the school itself.336 Also in Brazil, three public schools were compared to determine whether neighbourhood quality in turn affected the levels of violence within the schools. The researchers found, as expected, that the school in the most disadvantaged neighbourhood had the highest rates of violence, gun availability and substance abuse (although this was interestingly not the perception of the students within the schools.) They point out that schools are part of a cycle of violence within neighbourhoods, both contributing to the larger milieu and being affected by it.337


Human RightsWatch 2001 Agrawal, Anuja (2008) Sex Abuse is Undermining Girls' Education, 332 Titman 1988 333 Leach and Humphreys 2007; Brohi and Ajaib 2006 334 Noaks and Noaks 2000 335 Moser and McIlwaine 2004 336 Abramovay and Rua 2002; Abramovay and Avancini 2000 (cited by Stelko-Pereira and Wiliiams 2013) 337 Stelko-Periera and Williams 2013 331


Violence at work Since this is not as significant an issue for young children, it is reported on here in brief. The absence of data makes it difficult to report on the extent of the violence in the workplace, but the UN study on violence against children reports on children’s vulnerability not only to employers but to co-workers, police, customers and others.338 Numerous accounts over the years have reported on dangerous work situations for many children. A recent example describing the harsh conditions for young Bolivian miners, many as young as five years of age, 339 is typical of many studies describing the hazardous, exhausting physical conditions that can threaten children’s health and development on every front. Even when not explicitly violent, these conditions go well beyond neglect. Many of the millions of young working children worldwide are domestic servants. This work is often rationalized on the basis of kinship ties – children work for wealthier relatives or connections who in return guarantee their safety and promise an education. This physical setting of this situation, out of the public eye, is widely recognized to provide the context for physical and sexual abuse. 340 The isolation of these children is in some cases compounded by virtual incarceration, with children confined to kitchens and even locked in when their employers are out. 341 The ambiguity of the circumstances can result in the youngest and most at-risk children being overlooked by agencies, which are more likely to target somewhat older paid domestic servants.342 Girls (and boys) as young as seven and eight are vulnerable not only to beatings, humiliation, physical and psychological abuse from employers, but also sexual violence and harassment.343 In many cases children’s work exposes them to life on the street, with consequent exposure to hazards of various kinds, whether traffic, harassment or sexual abuse. In Nigeria, for instance, half of 100 girls between 8 and 15 who were engaged in streethawking reported being raped or seduced while working; by comparison “only” nine percent of a non-working group had been sexually coerced while running errands or walking to school.344 Even nine percent is of course an appalling number, a reminder of the seriousness of the challenges facing so many children moving around their own communities, even in the normatively more ideal context of attending school. An awkward reality around discussing work for underage children is the very fact that the normative discourse on childhood may not align with children’s own viewpoints and those of their families. The values which drive many rights-based policies and set the child protection agenda prioritize children’s school attendance and dependency within nuclear families and see most child work as a violation of rights. But in many cases, well 338

UN 2006 Center for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI) and Fundacion MEDMIN 2006 340 de Silva-de-Alwis 2007 341 Akhtar and Razzaq 2005 342 Jacquemin 2006 343 ILO 2004, Pinheiro 2006. 344 Ebigbo 2003 339


documented, these norms may not be viewed as practical survival solutions by the children and families concerned.345 Young girls working as housemaids may be exploitated and isolated; but many of them will say that this is better than working as unpaid labour on unproductive family farms, or having nothing to do and little hope of a better life. 346 This issue becomes especially controversial around the conflation of child trafficking and intentional migration for work, as will be discussed further below.

Losing home and neighbourhood Children on the street Millions of children either working or living on the streets, beyond local neighbourhoods, face high levels of risk in the inter-connected environments they occupy. A global report on street children and violence, drawing on commissioned papers from 69 representative countries, points to the accumulated experience of abuse and violence that is routine for many of these children.347 Many are on the street to start with because of abuse at home. Just as violence against women is often a factor precipitating homelessness, in many cases abusive treatment can result in children running away or being driven into the street. In Bogota, for instance, over a third of the children interviewed listed abuse as their chief reason for leaving home.348 Although the great majority of children living on the street are older than the age group under consideration here, there are also very young children who end up in this situation, and certainly many see their elder siblings leave home, often because of abuse. Once on the street, children are exposed to multiple risks which can lead to further abuses, including routine brutality by police in many places, robbery, violence among groups of children, and exposure to sexual abuse and harassment. Children living and working on the street also run the risk of being rounded up in efforts to “clean up” a city, often prior to large international events or visits by dignitaries. Those who then end up in detention centers or welfare shelters of various kinds can be exposed to further neglect and abuse.349 In Colombia, Amy Rittenbush draws on the experience of young girls living rough on the street in Bogota. They reject the term “street girls” because this category effectively disempowers them, allowing the spatial referent to simplify and overshadow their more complex identities. Yet their lives are defined by the constant dangers that characterize the street spaces they occupy, never comfortably but always balancing the needs for survival, companionship, self-determination with the inevitability of violence, whether from gender-based hate crimes, social cleansing or the by-products of drug use and prostitution. No place feels safe, they say. These girls’ constant movements through the 345

Howard 2013 Personal communication, Cecilia Tacoli, specialist in rural-urban links, International Institute for Environment and Development. 347 Thomas de Benitez 2007 348 Knaul and Ramírez 2005 349 Thomas de Benitez 2007 346


city, Rittenbusch are “haunted byStrategies place-memories violence” (p 65), some of From Street Girls to “VMC” explains, Girls: Empowering for of Representing... which they documented through maps of their territory (figure xx).350


Figure 6. Violence in La Mariposa by Alexa

Figure xx: Alexa’s map of violent episodes in the neighbourhood of La Mariposa

Source: Rittenbush 2013

Source: Ph.D. Dissertation, Ritterbusch 2011 While many researchers have portrayed children on the street primarily as victims, others see them as resourceful agents, creatively using street space to avoid abuse either at home or at the hands of authorities predatorsFé on the street. Matthew Davies describes the Place-Memories of Violence inorSanta world of street children in a Kenyan town, where and they occupy a hidden of mud Santa Fé, historically a high-end neighborhood currently a stretch district known for road in the town center behind the main commercial buildings – an area filled with sex work, mechanic andand car wash stops, Bogotá’s legally zoneiv rubbish and shops open sewers considered to be bothisfilthy and dangerous. The“tolerated” children of prostitution of brothels, nudity and drug houses, findfull it relatively free fromstreet harassment because of itsexposure, reputation, which they manipulate to paramilitaryensure occupation, and the scene have of social cleansing targeting transgender sex their own safety. Townspeople ceded them this space, knowing that 351 otherwise they would be an undesirable presence on the rest of the town’s streets. work populations. 350 Figure 7 collectively the ten transgender VMC girls’ perceptions of safe Rittenbush visualizes 2012 and unsafe spaces in Santa Fé; eight out of the ten marked at least one dangerous 351 space. Davies 2008


Also from Kenya, Ivan Droz describes another way of conceptualizing children on the street as belonging to “street families” rather than being “street children”, an approach that stresses their strong ties to one another and often to adults as well, and that acknowledges the street as genuine social environment and a “home” rather than just an expression of homelessness. This apparently more progressive way of viewing these material realities, however, has also been used to “euphematize” the situation in Droz’s words, normalizing a challenging set of realities that have been forced on people by their deep poverty and the absence of effective supports.352 Migration and trafficking Hundreds of thousands of children migrate each year either alone or with their families, most of them as part of the global trend towards urbanization. The scale and direction of this movement has much to do with the location of economic opportunity, and migration, whether temporary or long term, internal or foreign, plays a key role in the adjustment of households to changing realities. Assimilation can be difficult. Most migrant households take time to find a foothold. Some studies have pointed to the higher survival risks initially facing young migrant children; 353 other research has recently identified the higher rates of school violence endured by immigrant children.354 The more burning protection concerns presented by children on the move tend to revolve around the potential for exploitation and abuse faced by those who are unaccompanied by family. There are large numbers of these children, although only a very small percentage of them fall into the age range under discussion here. Nonetheless, even for many six, seven and eight year olds, this is the future they contemplate. Although mainstream migration statistics do not report on independent child migrants, Shahin Yaqub’s excellent overview of the available evidence cites relevant information from a studies in a number of countries. In Nepal, for instance, eight percent of 5 to 14 year olds are independent migrants; in Burkino Faso over nine percent of 6 to 17 year olds; in Benin, 22 percent of 6 to 16 year olds, their average age 10 to 11. In one rural district in South Africa, an estimated 21 percent of children migrated, 80 percent of them independently. Surveys of working children and adolescents in low-income urban areas find that many are recent migrants, often without accompanying family. In Uganda 40 percent of children working in the informal sector were not living with a parent; in Ethiopia, only 17 percent were living with parents, in Thailand only 12 percent.355 A 12 country study found that the proportion of independent child migrants was highest in the poorest countries, and that it included more girls than boys. Marc Sommers argues, based on in-depth research on this phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa, that most young Africans who do not already live in urban areas certainly want to


Droz 2006 Islam and Azad 2008 Stephenson et al 2003 354 Rutowski, Rutowski and Engel 2013 355 Yaqub 2009 353


and plan to.356 In my own discussions with girls eight, nine and older along the rural Kenyan coast in 2010, there was little debate about whether or not they would move to the city when they were older; their worry was more what to do once they had children – raise them in the city or leave them back in the village with their grandparents? Around the same time, a highly placed protection official described to me her efforts to prevent rural girls’ movement to the city through the use of peer persuasion. A number of girls from the city, now living in rehabilitation centres after rough times on the streets, were brought to share their experiences with the rural girls. The next morning, when the aid workers were preparing to leave, they found that the programme girls had already left for the city again, taking all the rural girls with them. A large part of the concern around these independent child migrants is couched in terms of child trafficking. Trafficking certainly deserves discussion here as a spatial expression of exploitation and violence. There are numerous organizations and web sites devoted to the issue, and according to one of these sites, the US State Department ranks human trafficking as the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, after drugs, with half of the victims being children.357 UNICEF, drawing on the ILO’s 2002 estimation, suggests there are 1.2 million trafficked children every year. 358 Yet, as Elzbieta Gozdziak points out in a commentary on the topic, little systematic research has been done on the topic and some of these figures may be much inflated.359 While trafficking is certainly a real problem, conflicting understandings of both childhood and exploitation can call into question the valid application of this category. Most identified victims are over 16 and do not think of themselves as children; many of them, once identified, choose to continue at their jobs. A growing literature demonstrates that a large number of ostensibly trafficked children – perhaps the majority – are in fact purposeful migrants taking advantage, with the endorsement of their families, of work and life opportunities not available near their homes. They may make use of recruiters, but these agents are not generally seen as traffickers. Yaqub makes the point that most of these young people leave home with a good idea of what faces them and many are in fact repeat migrators. They report practical reasons for their choices, and in most cases see migration as having improved their positions within their households and socio-economic situations. This is not to say there are no protection issues involved. While most children leave home primarily for income generation or to expand their future opportunities, a substantial number are attempting to avoid violence, abuse or early marriage at home. There are also the difficult conditions that face them at their destinations, where many end up living on the street, and the strong likelihood of exploitation in whatever work they find. There remains, however, little evidence that anti-trafficking policies do more than address a symptom of structural failure, often in ways that do children more harm than good


Sommers 2007

357 358

359 Gozdziak 2008


Neil Howard’s critical examination of child trafficking policies in Benin, an area of West Africa considered to be the hub of child trafficking and exploitation, finds a considerable disconnect between the official perceptions and the structural realities which underlie children’s migration for work. International declines in the price of cotton, he argues, have played havoc with the rural economy, and the decision for children to leave home is clearly a strategic one, carefully considered. “Protection” in this context, argues Howard, ends up penalizing both children and families. In a setting where six, seven and eight year olds routinely care for younger siblings and help around the house or even in the fields, it is not considered extreme for older children to find opportunities further afield when there is nothing productive to do at home. When asked what NGOs and government should be doing rather than attempting to prevent the migration of the young, the response was that they should be providing alternative options for employment nearer to home, and ensuring that those who have to migrate can do it safely. 360 The demographic reality of adolescent and child migration to cities is unlikely to be reversed. Given the paucity of the choices available to them in most cases, there is little evidence of young people willingly returning home. Research from a number of countries has indicated a need for both a more nuanced understanding of children’s migration as well as more care in developing protective responses. O’Connell, Davidson and Farrow, reacting to overly-simplistic responses to this situation, argue that “we need to ask which children migrate and why, when and why the process of migration puts children at risk, and when and why child migrants are vulnerable… we need to ask whether children who migrate are inevitably exposed to risks, or whether their vulnerability is politically and socially constructed.361 ( p 22) Forced displacement Migration is unquestionably challenging, even for children moving with their families as part of a carefully considered process. But migrants generally move after careful consideration. Refugees, disaster victims, those who are forcibly evicted most often move in a hurry and have little control over the process. At the end of 2007, 26 million internally displaced people were estimated to have been forced from their homes because of political violence, armed conflict, forced eviction or natural disaster.362 An additional 22 million refugees had crossed international borders.363 The implications for children and their households can be profound. Mindy Fullilove, a psychiatrist who has studied the effects of urban renewal on the African American population in the United States, refers to the suffering associated with displacement as “root shock.” She defines this as “the traumatic stress reaction to the destruction of all or part of one’s emotional ecosystem.”364 Compared to the turmoil associated with mass movements of people in the context of war or disaster, the experience of urban renewal in 360

Howard 2013 O’Connell Davidson and Farrow 2007 362 IDMC 2008 363 UNHCR (2002) 364 Fullilove 2005 p 11 361


US cities in the 1950s and 1960s might be considered relatively innocuous. People’s neighbourhoods were destroyed to make room for new development. In most cases this did not result in death or homelessness. Yet Fullilove documents the profoundly unsettling impacts of this community dismemberment which continue to reverberate forty and fifty years later, as people and communities fail to recover from being uprooted and to recreate the daily patterns of connectedness that make the difference between living in a place and truly dwelling there. Fullilove argues that displacement is the big problem that the twenty-first century has to solve. “Africans and aborigines, rural peasants and city dwellers have been shunted from one place to another … In cutting the roots of so many people, we have destroyed language, culture, dietary traditions, and social bonds. We have lined the ocean with bones, and filled the garbage dumps with bricks.” 365 Evictions Forced evictions affect millions of households globally every year. They are most often targeted at people living in informal settlements without legal tenure – the situation for a large and growing percentage of urban dwellers – take place even in countries with democratic governments such as India, South Africa and the Philippines. Sometimes these evictions involve tens of thousands of people at a time.366 A conservative estimate, cited by UN Habitat, is that 15 million people a year are displaced by public sector development projects alone.367 About 1.5 million were evicted, for instance, as a result of Beijing’s preparations for the 2008 Olympic games. These evictions, which occur in both urban and rural areas for a range of projects, including roads, dams, city beautification, industrial development and land speculation, are generally presented as being for the greater good. But they can have dire results for families and especially children, causing injury and death, trauma and anxiety as well as longer term upheaval to family welfare. Because those affected are generally deemed illegal residents, there is often no warning, no recourse and no alternatives for relocation. This is not simply a matter of convenience or indifference. Arjun Appadurai, writing about the “us” and “them” dichotomy that underlies so much violence, refers to the “intolerable anxiety” experienced around the notion of entitlements to state-provided goods for these undesirable populations – whether to housing, health or sanitation.368 The fear of the other surely underlies the violent methods so often undertaken to wrest land, possessions and stability from people. Alternatives do exist, as has been made abundantly clear by the numerous federations of the urban poor that have negotiated peaceful relocations with municipalities on terms that are mutually acceptable and beneficial.369 Although there is little research about the deeper implications for children, there are copious reports on evictions that include references to the children involved. News 365

Fullilove 2005 page 5 Du Plessis 2005 367 Farha 2011 368 Appadurai 2006 369 Patel et al 2002 366


reports from Uganda, for example, describe people being thrown off their land in 2011 by the government, in coordination with a company which had reportedly been given a license to grow trees for carbon credits, with expected earnings of $2 million a year. 370 Long-term residents claim they were forcibly removed. “Villagers told of how armed ‘security forces’ stormed their village and torched houses, burning an eight-year-child to death as they threatened to murder anyone who resisted while beating others.”371 Danger for children continued even after the initial event. According to one father whose land had been taken, “I no longer own any land. It’s impossible to feed my children – they have suffered so much. Some days all they eat is porridge from maize flour. When people can’t eat well their bodies become weak – there have been lots of cases of malaria and diarrhoea. Some days we don’t eat anything at all.” 372 In Metro Manila, evictions and demolitions are ongoing, with significant impacts for children. A recent report from Quezon City describes the outcome of one demolition by local government of 100 shanties of vendor families; residents had asked for a postponement because some of the children were ill with measles. The demolition went ahead, however, with no replacement shelter being offered, and four children died as a result of complications related to sleeping outdoors in bad weather. 373 In Zimbabwe, after the 2005 mass forced evictions, Operation Murambatsvina, thousands of children dropped out of school because they were forced to move to areas without sufficient schools or because the impact on family finances made school impossible to afford.374 Twenty eight percent lost more than a year of school and many of them were out for more than three years, or never went back. Many who continued their schooling did so in poorly equipped informal schools set up by their families after the evictions. In Kathmandu, Nepal, in May 2012, over 2000 police were deployed to assist in the eviction of almost a thousand people, including over 400 children under 15. Families were awoken at 5 a.m. and told to gather their belongings and leave their homes. There was too little time to gather up cooking utensils, bedding, citizenship papers and other essentials, and a number of women were beaten when they tried to go back for more. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas while bulldozers leveled almost 250 shacks. No alternative housing was provided. This was apparently the first step in the removal of a number of squatter settlements along the bank of the Bagmati River to make way for road improvements.375 An Indian slum dweller describes the experience of being a parent in this situation: When you live in a slum the threat of eviction is always around you. Most of the time it is like a shadow in the night. You sense its presence but you convince yourself that everything will be OK. But at other times it is a real danger. And when the eviction 370

Kron 2011 Watson Sept 23, 2011 372 Watson 2011 373 Aban no date 2001? 374 Amnesty International 2011 375 ACHR 2012 371


happens it is an explosion of fear and anger, sorrow and disbelief. Imagine what it is like to watch your children witness your total powerlessness as police tear down their home, trash their belongings, beat them with batons and hound them with teargas.376 These events are often documented by journalists, rights organizations and slum federations, but as noted there has been little systematic research on the effects for children. One qualitative study in the late 1990s described interviews with evicted children from Manila, Phnom Penh and Mumbai. The children spoke of their panic around the confusion of the evictions and the anxiety of having no place to go and having to sleep outdoors. Picking up the pieces afterwards and regaining any kind of stability had been difficult. Friends were lost, parents’ jobs were lost, children dropped out of school. Many continued to have nightmares, headaches and panic attacks over subsequent months.377 There have also been a few studies of cases where children were relocated after a forced eviction. Jill Swart-Kruger followed a group of children after their eviction from a squatter settlement in central Johannesburg to a distant relocation site outside the city with no provision or services;378 and more recently Sudeshna Chatterjee worked with children in Delhi, also forcibly moved from a central squatter settlement to a peripheral relocation site.379 Both noted that the already trying conditions families were dealing with at their original sites became more challenging in the new settlements as access to everything became more difficult. In Delhi, the impacts for the children were somewhat mitigated by their active involvement in advocating and negotiating aspects of the process, as will be discussed further in the responses section. More research is sorely needed on the long-term effects for young children of these increasingly common and entirely preventable events, especially where children and families endure repeated evictions. A lack of legal tenure does not necessarily result in eviction. Many communities worldwide, even without tenure, may have a measure of de facto security. But hundreds of millions of households live in constant fear of forced removal. The vigilance can be so extreme that, as described by Celine d’Cruz of Shack Dwellers International in the context of Mumbai’s pavement dwellers, it often entails a small child staying at home all day while older household members go off to work. The child’s function is to stay alert to any threats, and to grab important papers and run to warn family members if yet another eviction gets underway.380 Refugees from conflict and disaster Around the world, millions of people each year are forced to begin living as refugees, uprooted from their homes and communities, some for a period of months, others for many years. In 2010, UNHCR counted almost 11 million refugees from conflict, and 376

Age of Zinc August 8 2012 Rahmatullah 1997 378 Swart-Kruger 2002 379 Chatterjee 2007 380 personal communication 377


fewer than 200,000 returned refugees.381 In 2011 alone, almost 15 million people were displaced just by weather-related disasters.382 In just one week at the end of June 2012, over 6 million people were forced by monsoon rains to leave their homes in Assam and other states in northeastern India.383 In many cases those who are displaced remain in camps for prolonged periods and can be highly vulnerable to the next round of weather disasters. The massive scale of displacement worldwide, and the limited resources allocated to this problem, raise grave protection issues for children. Although displacement related to climate change or disaster is not an effect of violence, as in the case of war or forced eviction, it can also result in exposure to violence, abuse and neglect. Aside from deepening poverty, displacement has profound social, emotional and cultural implications. Research from North and South points to the distress, frustration and despair that can accompany displacement, whether as a result of eviction, refugee status, or the loss of home through natural disaster.384 “Consider, “ says Stuart Lustig, “the destabilizing impact of one’s family suddenly uprooting, often violently, from everything familiar (friends, neighbourhoods, cherished places, favourite activities) and transplanting themselves, sometimes as a unit but potentially in fragments, in an entirely unknown world …” (p 241).385 Specific risks have been pinpointed for children. There are issues around mental and physical health, but increased rates of child abuse have also been associated with factors that become more prevalent after upheaval – such as maternal depression, increased poverty, loss of property or a breakdown in social support. Research in the United States in the six months following a hurricane found that in areas most severely affected by the storm, rates of traumatic brain injury in children under two rose sharply. Five times as many children were admitted to hospital with inflicted brain injuries as in the previous six months, and there were ten times as many accidental brain injuries, which were considered to be due to the presence of environmental hazards in emergency shelters and temporary housing, as well as reduced parental supervision. In other words, both abuse and neglect were at issue here. 386 No similar research in low- and middle-income countries points so precisely to increased rates of child abuse or neglect. However there is a growing body of evidence on the challenging conditions of displacement, whether in camps or in the process of longer term resettlement. In the aftermath of displacement, children’s capacity to cope can be closely related to the settings they end up in. Research from Croatia, after the war there, compared displaced children whose families were resettled with host families with those who were placed in collective shelters. Those in the shelters showed considerably higher

381 IDMC 2012 383 IDMC July 2012 384 See for instance Carr 1994 ; Kessler et al 2008; NCTSN 2003 385 Lustig 2010 386 Keenan 2004. 382


levels of stress, manifested through such indicators as eating disorders, sleeping disorders, nightmares, physical problems and emotional and behavioural problems.387 Post-disaster and refugee camps are often grim places, where the lack of clean water, food and medical care and exposure to infectious disease can result in illness and acute malnutrition especially for young children.388 The camps are generally uncomfortable and overcrowded, with no provision for privacy in spaces that may be shared by multiple families. Sexual violence is frequently reported, and there have been numerous accounts of children and women enduring abuse of various kinds.389 Research from Colombia, details the increased rates of domestic abuse experienced by women who have been displaced – almost one woman in two.390 The lack of privacy, concerns about protecting possessions, rapidly deteriorating shelters, insufficient latrines and public showers, long lines for water, an absence of adequate lighting, contribute to the more general stress and anxiety experienced by people who are victims of conflict or disaster. Deprived of their own space, of the routines of home, and a sense of control over their lives, people may experience a breakdown in the social controls that normally regulate household and community behavior.391 UNCHR research points out that sexual exploitation has become a survival mechanism for many refugee families, and that inadequate food rations in camps can encourage young girls to engage in sex to help their families. The power imbalance between children and aid workers has also been reported to result at times in unwanted sex.392 The UN report on conflictrelated sexual violence makes the point that the fear of rape can also lead to displacement, which can become the only way for women and girls in some places (Colombia is an example) to avoid becoming victims of sexual violence by armed groups.393 Far from being the temporary solutions they are designed to be, these dysfunctional living arrangements can become the only reality many children have known. Displaced parents have fewer choices than most and may have limited capacity to protect their children or to sustain their trust. Depression and anxiety can be common among both children and adults, and high rates of post traumatic stress disorder as well as more common mental disorders have been identified among camp populations from Honduras to Mozambique, from Afghanistan to Cambodia.394 Most of the attention to the implications for children of war and disaster have focused on the trauma surrounding the high octane event and its immediate aftermath. A number of observers have claimed that this arguably Western construct may be seriously overused in interpreting extreme experiences. The expectation of pathological outcomes can in some 387

Ajdukovic and Ajdukovic 1993 Harrell-Bond 2000 389 See for instance Fisher 2005 on conditions after the tsunami 390 Profamilia 2011 391 Gururaja, S 2000 392 UNHCR & SC-UK 2002 393 UN General Assembly Security Council 2012 394 Batniji, van Ommeren and Saraceno 2006 388


cases become part of the problem – we tend to find what we are looking for. The tendency to pathologize behaviour may also result in a misinterpretation of appropriate responses to these extreme events.395 Research makes it increasingly clear that for many, the most challenging aspect of these experiences is the long, slow, exhausting process of putting life back together again, and often the impossibility of regaining a solid foothold on life.396 The challenges they face are often reflected in much higher mortality and malnutrition rates for young children. Children who are born in conflict-affected countries as twice as likely to be malnourished and twice as likely to die before they reach the age of five.397 As Mike Wessels points out, “the boundaries between conflict and post-conflict are often blurred, and risks frequently carry over from the emergency phase or change into more complex forms” (p 8) 398 The difficulties can be especially stark for people taking refuge in other countries, who, when they are not in formal refugee camps, may be forced to live hidden marginal lives. People who have already experienced profound loss may also face contempt and rejection at their destinations by host populations that fear the influx of strangers and the implied competition for jobs, state entitlements and resources.399 Gillian Mann describes the situation of Congolese refugee children in Dar es Salaam, who experience their exclusion, fear of exposure and abject family circumstances as more devastating than the physical danger they faced in the context of war back at home. “You are no longer a person,” explained one boy. “You have lost not only your land, your things and your country, you have lost yourself” (p 451).400 A young girl echoes his sentiments: “Here we live like chickens, caged up . . . circling around, never knowing if we will be released. In Congo, it was different, I had a life. I was a person”(p 451). In the context of displacement as well as in the more routine survival strategies of life in poverty, children repeatedly identify the assaults on dignity and personhood as the most draining experience of violence. The wreckage of post-conflict lives is, however, often experienced in the most material terms. James Quesada describes the situation of Daniel in Nicaragua, a victim, with his family, of the confusion following the revolution. Evicted from their home as a result of changes in property rights after the Sandanista electoral defeat, the family experienced rapidly declining fortunes. After living with friends, they ended up squatting on a hillside in a dwelling of cardboard, plastic and zinc sheets. The small boys dug ditches around the house to prevent their dirt floor turning to mud during rainstorms; they fetched water from a spigot half a mile away, washed clothing in a stream, scavenged for food, and fought to maintain their leaking plastic roof while their mother searched for work around the city. It was the sheer constancy of these burdens as much as the recurring crises that led Daniel, at 10, to confide in the author that it would be better if he died. “Look at me, I’m all bones anyway, I’m already dying. I’m too small and I’ve stopped growing and I 395

NCTSN 2003, Boyden and Mann 2005 Mann 2012; Wickrama and Kaspar 2008 397 World Bank 2011 398 Wessels 2009 399 Appadurai 2006 400 Mann 2012 396


am another mouth to feed” (p 294)401 These costs to children in the aftermath of violence may be overlooked because they do not constitute an immediate violent threat. Also relevant are the gradually worsening physical conditions that can a result from changing climates, and their protection implications for children. The most significant effects are generally experienced by poor families and communities, who have the least infrastructure to protect them from such trends as increasing and more intense rains or rising sea levels, and the least capacity to prepare, adapt and protect themselves. These more gradual changes can mean rising prices for basics, more time and energy coping with increasingly surroundings and daily routines, the loss of livelihoods. 402 When families face more pressure than they can reasonably adapt to, neglect and abuse can easily follow.403 There is also the insidious displacement that can follow from the acquisition or appropriation of people’s land for commercial activity and the destruction of local habitat. The symbolic violence inherent in this dispossession can be accompanied by threats and physical brutality. A good example is the conflict over gold mining in the state of Cabañas, El Salvador by the Canadian company Pacific Rim. This has become increasingly menacing over recent years, as residents near the mine have refused to accept the poisoned water and loss of livelihoods that have resulted from the operation. Opponents have suffered threats and violence, and three local leaders were allegedly assassinated in 2010, including Dora Alicia Sorto Recino, eight months pregnant at the time.404 Anonymous threats were repeatedly delivered to a small community radio station in the area for reporting on the situation, and the level of fear in surrounding communities was high. According to one radio member, "The threats have changed our way of living, changed how we are with our families, with our friends and with our audience.”405

Responses to violence in the context of the physical environment Problems with traditional models for child protection Responding to violence as it affects children has been primarily the business of the child protection world within multilateral agencies and NGOs, national governments and their local representatives. This work includes everything from the formulation of laws, policies and frameworks for action, to awareness raising campaigns, to the development of child protection systems or programmes that deal more immediately with problems on the ground. These more local responses have tended to follow a social work model which focuses in a case by case way on the elimination of harm, and which operates on


Quesada 2004 Bull-Kamanga et al 2003. 403 Bartlett 2008 404 McGee 2012 402


Personal communication 74

the assumption, as Myers and Bourdillon point out in their introduction to the special issue on child protection, that only a minority of children need the supports provided.406 There are problems with this model however. In countries where much of the population is in deep poverty, child protection systems can be minimal at best and hardly make a dent.407 Myers and Bourdillon suggest that “A major question raised about this social work model is whether or not, when children are at risk from things that face whole communities or societies, such as some form of social exclusion or poverty, they can be protected without looking at the broader issues.” The social work model can also marginalize children even further; research from Kenya, for instance, details the endemic failures of a bureaucratic, under-resourced system which results in such travesties as children remaining for years in overcrowded remand centres because the lack of funds for transportation delays their placement in family homes.408 There is also a tendency, understandable in the context of very limited resources, to focus responses on particular classes of children – AIDS orphans in Africa for instance, unaccompanied or separated children in the context of displacement, trafficked children. These are categories which may not match well with more local understandings or experiences of vulnerability, and which may also have the effect of marginalizing children. Patricia Henderson points specifically to AIDS orphans who are seen as especially vulnerable, and who have been the focus in sub-Saharan Africa of a good deal of targeted protection programming. She questions the tendency to identify these children as a particular category for response in a context where there is widespread pain, not only from the impact of AIDS, but from endemic poverty and violence. This categorization, she argues, is “an obsessive fixation on points of violation or personal pain…” (p 306), and the label may end up doing these children more harm than good. 409 Another problem is that “protection” viewed from this social work perspective is often something that happens after a critical event – after trafficking has occurred, after a child is on the street, after stressful family circumstances have contributed to neglectful behavior (although this would seldom be a focus in most low income countries.) Myers and Bourdillon, reflecting on dysfunctional policies and systems and “good protective intentions gone awry”, question whether child protection is even a useful category. “Does it perhaps encourage single-faceted responses, taking children out of development and indeed out of the societies in which they live? Does it encourage a harmful dichotomy between children and the adult world into which they are growing up? Is the notion of child protection too reactive, responding to threats, and insufficiently proactive in establishing conditions in which children thrive?”410 Child protection policies and systems, in other words, are overly ambitious, given the extent of the

406 407

Myers and Bourdillon 2010 Cooper 2012, Huskisson 1998


Cooper 2012

409 410

Henderson Myers and Bourdillon 2012 b, p 442


problems and the constraints in resources. But also they are not really ambitious enough, since they seldom address the deeper causes of violence. The child protection world is certainly not oblivious to these concerns. Far from it. As Mike Wessels explains in a review of responses from the international community, practitioners are sorely aware that children face systemic threats often grounded in histories of inequality and injustice, and that protective factors need to be developed and strengthened at multiple levels within their social ecology. In the absence of local and national governments with the resources and will to address the problems, he points to the growing reliance on developing and supporting community-based protection groups. These are seen as a low cost way to reach greater numbers of children than would ever be possible through an individual casework approach, and involve a group of local people, often volunteers, who make it their business to monitor and ensure the protection of children within a local community or neighbourhood. Horizontal links between these committees and vertical links with district and national level mechanisms theoretically ensure that they operate within a supportive framework.411 Wessels acknowledges, however, the slim evidence base on the efficacy of these groups. It is difficult to isolate the impact of such committees from other local influences and there is an absence of the well-defined indicators for success that are standard in such areas as health and sanitation. Most assessments are programme evaluations undertaken by the implementing agencies and the evidence on the whole is anecdotal and impressionistic. A number of successes have been noted, mostly in the decrease in numbers of more egregious or easily identified violations such as forced labour or a lack of birth registration. But generally speaking there appears to be limited success in stimulating genuine local ownership for these groups. This remains in many ways a topdown effort of international groups. A particular problem that Wessels points to, one that is not unfamiliar in broader development efforts, is the introduction of considerable sums of money before a group has either a strong identity or a clear understanding or sense of responsibility around the problems they are tackling. Protection efforts in these contexts need to be better integrated into the priorities and more general development of local communities; outside organizations can provide support but not an alternative to the stable families and organized communities that are essential to genuine protection for children. The concept is simple (“it takes a village�) but its realization gets to the heart of the more general challenges posed by successful development and poverty reduction.. Expanding the focus A greater focus on the physical environment and on the material conditions of life highlights the range and complexity of the issues relevant to the adequate protection of children, and the dependence of children and their families on safe, secure, supportive homes and neighbourhoods for stability, and provides a broader platform for response. It places child protection, in other words, squarely in the domain of community development. 411

Wessels 2009


But an involvement in this range of concerns clearly goes well beyond the mandate of most child protection agencies and organizations, which have little connection with the actors and agencies responsible for housing, infrastructure, public space, transport and the like. We live in a sectoral world where action is concerned, and it is seldom simple or automatic to go beyond the parameters of conventional responses. There was a memorable illustration of this kind of limitation some years ago in Pretoria, South Africa, where an INGO was working to respond to the growing problem of sexual violence. Young girls in focus groups pointed to the lack of street lights in their neighbourhoods, a problem that made them more vulnerable and far more fearful. Rather than working with the municipality and local community on the provision of street lights, however, the organization’s reaction was to hold more focus groups with the girls on the need for caution and the importance of avoiding dark streets.412 This kind of response is unfortunate but understandable. When we have a hammer, we look for a nail. It is reasonable to assume that people are most effective working in the area of their expertise. But sectoral protection responses, unless they are well integrated with broader efforts, remain often simplistic and incomplete. This is not to suggest that street lights would have solved this problem either. Responding to particular environmental issues cannot “solve” the problem of violence, any more than counseling can. Stevens and Hasset, applying complexity theory to child protection, point out that violence and maltreatment arise out of the interaction of a range of factors which cannot be effectively addressed by focusing on single causes.413 Concerted local attention to getting street lights installed, however, might have had a catalyzing effect in starting to shift the complex ecology of material and social factors that made the harassment of young girls a default reality in this situation. Thinking about material conditions encourages more contextual responses to violence, and draws attention to fundamental equity issues. Street lights, along with secure tenure, decent housing, adequate provision of basic services, lively common spaces and places for recreation, safe routes to school, adequate security in poor neighborhoods – these are a few of the basic needs that have been highlighted in this review of research and experience. But even if we acknowledge these links, responding is another matter. Challenging though it is to protect children through targeted social interventions, how much greater is the challenge of responding to the underlying concerns, with the potential they present for neglect, abuse and exposure to violence for large numbers of small children. What I am proposing here is not to throw away the hammer, but to ensure that the nails are helping to hold up a real structure, something that will provide shelter and last for a while. The focus in this section is not only on the programmatic responses that childfocused organizations or social service agencies can realistically undertake on their own,

412 413

Personal experience as a visiting consultant Stevens and Hassett 2007


but on the efforts they might choose to collaborate with and support, the policies they might advocate for, the fellow travellers they might want to consider. The emphasis here is local. Admittedly, no deep-seated change can happen in the absence of good laws, socially responsive state-driven strategies, and economic decisions that support equitable societies. But even in democratic countries, evictions continue to be routine; even where laws protect the right of women to inherit land, few may have their names on titles; even the context of socially progressive policies, there can be gang violence and frightened children and an absence of street lights. The focus here is on the ways that laws, budgets, policies are implemented locally, the way they play out through local power relations. The responses discussed here go well beyond psychosocial programming, but the discussion remains largely local in its focus. One example from South Africa pointed to the need to widen the frame of concern to include street lights and local authorities. Another South African example demonstrates how well child protection can be integrated into local community-driven development efforts. This case was an informal outgrowth of the activities of small local women’s savings groups, whose members belong to an international network of urban poor federations, Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI). These groups used the organizational momentum of daily savings in the larger effort to gain secure land and housing. During their regular savings meetings, they also tackled other local issues such as waste management, community health, getting children into school – all of which involved coordination and negotiation with local government. Part of what developed very naturally in the course of their long-term effort to improve their living conditions was an informal surveillance system on the welfare of neighbourhood children and women, with specific attention to households where there is the threat of violence or abuse. Some of these savings groups became involved with a local child protection NGO, which offered training to members to negotiate with parents in difficult situations. Savings group members began to help run the NGO office, which also provided a place of safety for women and children when necessary.414 The services provided by this NGO are not unusual; what is unusual here is that local women were driving the agenda and drawing on the NGO’s services to further their own vision of integrated local development. They were working towards secure housing, but they did not see that as incompatible with attention to the community’s children. Both efforts required organization, attention, commitment, which followed naturally from their regular meetings. It is unusual but very desirable that child protection – along with the protection of other vulnerable community members including women themselves – become embedded, as is the case here, within the broader framework of communitydriven poverty reduction and work for social justice. In this discussion of responses, I will refer repeatedly to the work of Slum Dwellers International and its affiliates, not because there are not many other fine examples (some of which will also be described here ), but because the work of this network is well documented and because it embodies an integrated and community-driven approach to local development that is especially 414

Interview with Evelyn Benekane, South African Federation of the Urban Poor, 2008


salient to the concerns of this paper. It addresses land tenure, decent housing, basic infrastructure services, the quality of community space, all rooted in the context of local community-driven organization and the strengthening of social capital. Partnerships, participation and community-driven development The basic concepts, again, are clear. Although sectoral responses take priority in the development world, the arguments in favor of integrated, area-based, community-driven development are familiar. These arguments all hold up for responses to violence as well. Child protection efforts need to be integrated or mainstreamed into the broader development of communities because children’s protection cannot happen in isolation from strong stable families and communities. Efforts need to be area-based because both problems and opportunities vary locally, and the most effective solutions take account of this variation. Communities are also the scale at which sectoral and integrated approaches can best be articulated. Community-driven responses to the complex issues involved in child protection are not only viable but probably essential both in identifying concerns and working towards solutions. The investment of local energy and skills is especially critical in resource-poor settings. Without genuine neighbourhood commitment, the efforts of child protection organizations and agencies are likely to remain patchy and poorly targeted. Their function ideally should be to support locally developed systems, not to impose their own. Local ownership is also the best guarantee of sustained success, since genuine lasting change seldom happens within the limits of a project cycle. Sustained responses call also for strong partnerships with and within local government. Given the primary role of local authorities in providing for or mediating the provision of such basics as land, housing, infrastructure, basic services and law enforcement, collaboration on this front is critical. Upstream laws, policies, budgets provide an essential framework, but they play out locally and are only as effective as local governance and commitment allow them to be. Integrated responses can move in various directions. Local efforts to gain secure housing can lead naturally to child protection, as demonstrated by the federations in South Africa. But concerted efforts undertaken in partnership to ensure child protection can also end up pointing to the need for housing. In Tippecanoe County, Indiana, for instance, a Community Report Card was developed by a local child protection policy board. The members of this board included representatives from medical, mental health, education, justice, faith, law enforcement and social service agencies as well as people from the community. This study group concluded that addressing basic housing deficits in the county was central to alleviating the risk of child abuse. Whether or not there was followthrough in this situation was not documented – but even the recognition by this many local actors of the central role of housing was a critical step in moving towards effective responses.415 Cross cutting task forces are not unusual in concept – but gathering a committed group and galvanizing the political will to act on its findings is another matter.


Biggs-Read et al 2008


The complexities of functional partnerships are beyond the scope of this discussion, but it is nonetheless important to point out that complex problems require joint efforts. This vision of child protection also hinges in a primary way on the involvement of children’s communities. Participation is in theory an essential ingredient in the programming of many organizations, an integral component of a rights-based approach. But it can differ enormously in quality and intent. Too often, it is undertaken more as a project or deliverable in its own right rather than a way of genuinely engaging community members, young or old, in a process of identifying and acting on their own needs. Real involvement cannot be confused with consultation or informational meetings. Nor can the inclusion of just the more available, articulate and powerful local residents take the place of the involvement of the most marginalized or vulnerable. Too often the term “community” can mask the diversity within most settlements. Julian Brigstoke, in a volume on the problems inherent in participation, points to the critical importance of “amplifying hidden, whispered truths, truths that testify to experiences that have until now been silenced” (p 11). This perspective and these truths are certainly germane to issues around child protection. Participation, Brigstoke argues, is not always about consensus or rational agreement – nor is it a “banal aggregation of preferences”. Rather, it’s the creation of new voices and provocations.416 Real participation can be quite inconvenient for organizations. It has limited compatibility with predetermined plans of action, log frame outputs or free standing projects isolated from the more general development priorities of a group of people. It requires a willingness on the part of organizations to support a process rather than push for pre-determined outcomes. The development and nurturance of a collective voice around problems collectively experienced can lead in unanticipated directions. Where children are concerned, the challenges may be especially apparent. Especially in situations of violence it can be common to consider children as passive victims and to focus on the damage to their developing psyches rather than their capacity to identify problems and help negotiate solutions. Responses to violence, as Kenkel and Couling explain, are done to children rather than with them.417 Their experience and knowledge should be a welcome, respected addition in strategizing to create safe environments. Natasha Blanchet-Cohen points out that genuine agency among children in this regard is not simply a matter of their right to participation, but a recognition of the fact that their powerlessness is at the root of their vulnerability to violence.418 An informed concern with their physical surroundings comes very naturally to children, and although many fine participatory projects have focused on their experience of physical space, children are rarely brought into decision-making and planning around their housing and neighborhoods. Even where there appears to be a genuine desire to listen to their priorities and concerns, there can be scant attention to any kind of follow up. Girls may have a chance to tell people that the lack of streetlights is a problem, for 416

Brigstocke 2013 Kenkel and Couling 2006 418 Blanchet Cohen 2009 417


instance, but it is less common for them to be involved in addressing the problem, or for their concerns to be taken on seriously by others.419 Because practical follow up is complicated, participatory projects often focus more on how children feel than what can be done about it – or on the educational aspects of civic participation. Among children’s organizations, it is also common to conduct participation with children only. While their perspective on violence or maltreatment is critical, violence is a familywide and community-wide problem and calls for a range of knowledge, skills and support. Changes to the physical environment also call for broader acceptance and involvement if they are to be viable. Unless children’s concerns and priorities are integrated into the more general priorities of a community, they can easily get lost. There is also the fact that involving infants and very young children is problematic. Mothers and other caregivers are best placed to represent their needs and best interests and to help establish the conditions that support optimal care and security. Yet often they are the people in a household or a community who are least likely to have the time or opportunity for involvement in local affairs, unless some kind of provision is made to adapt to their busy schedules. This is all to say that while it is easy to recommend and advocate for participatory and local responses to the issues of violence and child protection, this is easier said than done. It takes skill, commitment, follow-through and an openness to allowing communities, in all their diversity, to identify their own priorities for this to make a real difference. Given these initial concerns and provisos, what follows is a brief overview of responses at different levels to that can contribute to ensuring the protection of local children, or that can serve as entry points to such an effort. This is by no means a comprehensive set of recommendations; these examples are at best a sampler that ideally, taken together, illustrate different aspects of a particular approach to a complex issue. Housing and housing security Insecure tenure and evictions Insecure tenure, a pressing concern for millions of households worldwide, undermines family stability, contributes to stress and perpetuates poverty. When it culminates in eviction, especially forced eviction, the direct impacts for young children can be extreme. Some of the most successful efforts around both resisting eviction, establishing secure tenure or negotiating relocation alternatives have come out of the work of various federations of the urban poor, many of which belong to Slum/Shack Dwellers International. While these federations differ in terms of both national and local realities, they share a set of proven flexible tools, developed over 30 years, that help them to build local capacity and to negotiate effectively with local government. The mapping and enumeration of settlements by their residents is an important first step that helps people identify themselves, their neighbourhoods and their shared problems through the collection of detailed, up-to-date data on households and neighbourhood. 419

Clements 2005


This information on otherwise “invisible” unrecorded settlements provides the starting point for negotiation with authorities around secure community tenure arrangements or appropriate relocation to secure land.420 This process has helped to address the stress of insecurity for hundreds of thousands of households at this point, establishing the basis for more stable families and communities and freeing energy and resources to go to other concerns. The organization and collaboration involved in the process, at the same time builds the kind of social capital and confidence in joint efforts that is fundamental to addressing these other concerns. This a collective ritual, as Arjun Appadurai explains it, that goes far beyond documenting social reality and becomes a tool for group formation. The process can “enable poor urban communities to mobilize knowledge about themselves in a manner that can resist eviction, exploitation and surveillance in favour of advancing their own rights, resources and claims” (p 640).421 From Delhi comes Sudeshna Chatterjee’s account of five years worth of efforts, both by children and on their behalf by a broad coalition of partners, around the drawn out process of forced eviction from settlements along the Yamuna River. Although these efforts were not sufficient to halt the evictions or to counter all the difficult impacts for children and families, they did help to humanize the process of resettlement and gave many children a sense of agency in a context that would otherwise have framed them only as victims. The efforts ultimately resulted in improved living conditions in the relocation areas as well as focusing broad attention on the impacts of eviction and resettlement for children, leading to redefinitions of state responsibility around resettlement.422 Chatterjee’s account demonstrates also the range of ways in which child advocates and agencies can insert themselves into action around various aspects of eviction and resettlement, coordinating with other actors to realize a better outcome for (and with) children. One such contribution is certainly to address the need for more research and a better understanding of eviction and insecurity as it affects young children. Equal rights of women to land and housing A particular aspect of secure tenure is the way it relates to women and their control over their lives. Research from both North and South makes it clear that domestic violence precipitates homelessness and insecurity for both women and children. It also indicates the extent to which property ownership and secure tenure in a woman’s name can serve as a protective measure. This kind of security is the exception more often than the rule. Simply securing the legal right of women to be property owners is not sufficient, as research from Kenya and elsewhere makes clear.423 Nor is women’s home-ownership something that can reasonably be tackled one household at a time where structural realities do not support it. Once again, Slum Dwellers International provides a compelling model in the context of low income countries for the achievement of this kind of security. According to Celine d’Cruz and Patience Mudimu of SDI, “Since women (along with 420

Patel, Baptist, d’Cruz 2012 Appadurai 2012 422 Chatterjee 2007 423 Nyamu-Musembi, C. 2005, cited in UN 2011 421


their children) are the most vulnerable and stand to lose the most by not having a secure shelter, it is necessary for the poorest women to become the centre of any urban poverty strategy. Today, the membership of most city and national federations is 60 to 80 percent women.”424 These women become members of local savings groups, as described above in the case of South Africa. The practice of daily savings, humble and low profile though it is, becomes a galvanizing process that empowers these women to work in groups, to federate with other similar groups, and to turn their individual need for housing into a collective solution, leveraging their savings into a pooled force that changes their relationship with their husbands, with traditional male leadership within communities and with the formal world of funding and finance. Adding women’s names to titles, once they are secured, or even putting them in the woman’s name, is encouraged by the Federations and has become the norm in most places where they operate.425 Housing design and quality The quality of housing as well as its security is at issue here. As with issues of tenure, there is a large body of literature on effective approaches to addressing housing problems in ways that bridge the gap between household needs and available resources.426 The common thread in most of the successful initiatives is the involvement of residents in decisions that affect their housing. Where this involvement is absent, solutions frequently fail to match needs. Sheela Patel explains, for example, how the massive Indian government upgrading programmes have failed to meet the priorities of the poor in many cases. Rather than improving existing housing and settlements, as residents wish they would do, many municipalities persist in bulldozing existing housing and building new high rises. In a great many cases, households end up with less space, and less flexible space, than they initially had and in many cases they have refused to accept the new housing they were offered.427 The problem of overcrowding is central here because of the capacity for crowded housing conditions to contribute to punitive and even abusive responses to children. It is not easy to address the problem of overcrowded housing, especially in the context of limited access to land, densely built urban settlements, and the absence of measures that facilitate the capacity of the poor to add incrementally to their homes.428 And in fact the objective of eliminating crowding must be cautiously viewed, since it can contribute to other difficulties for those in inadequate housing. Zoning regulations to limit density, for instance, can contribute to the scarcity of housing; forced relocation of communities to empty land, so that densely built inner city areas can be redeveloped, can also be justified as an effort to eliminate crowded slum conditions for the betterment of all, but it can mean that people are moved far from sources of livelihood. When people in poverty 424

D’Cruz and Mudimo 2013 personal communication, Celine d’Cruz, SDI 426 See for instance Luansang et al 2012, Boonyabancha 2005; Greene and Rojas 2008 427 Patel 2013 428 Greene and Rojas 2008 425


choose to live in very crowded conditions, they are often choosing the lesser among different evils. Innovative housing finance mechanisms for self-builders, greater flexibility and resident participation in government-supported housing programmes and changes to regulatory systems can all help households work towards acquiring the space they need.429 An environmental perspective on violence encourages more contextual, integrated responses, but it can also provide a constructive entry point to the local discussion of sensitive protection issues. There appears to be a natural synergy here. Discussing housing design and layout can raise concerns around difficult family isssues which might not otherwise be aired. Following the tsunami, conversations in Tamil Nadu with local women on housing plans and the practicality of the one bedroom model proposed by aid agencies, gradually turned into discussion of the challenges of managing sexual dynamics and violations in housing with no provision for privacy. Staff from a local communitybuilding organization said these issues had never been raised in their presence, and the women agreed that they did not usually talk even to one another about these problems. Once the concerns had been raised, however, women became quickly involved in discussing changes and improvements to the existing plan which they felt might alleviate the difficulties. Several creative possibilities were proposed which added little to the cost of these houses and which families could choose among. None of these changes were extraordinary – they fell well within the incremental strategies that households commonly use to develop their housing over time. The important was that the changes introduced by the women, different for different household configurations, facilitated these strategies and saved them time and money. Other relevant problems were also raised by men and women, girls and boys in the course of a week of work to modify the standard house plan. Indoor toilets, for instance, part of the house plan, were initially designed to be entered through an outside door. This was because a toilet in the home was still an unusual feature in this part of the world, and many people considered it unhygienic and distasteful to have it open directly into the house. During the course of discussion, however, young girls acknowledged that they felt embarrassed and vulnerable being seen entering the toilet outside by non-family members (a problem that causes many women and girls in South Asia to wait until it is dark to tend to their needs). They said they would find it less threatening to have an inside door. Debating practical, material needs in this way can become an entry point into more difficult discussions and a shared awareness. Once this issue had been broached, mothers and older women also began to consider the relief it would be to be able to use their toilets from inside the privacy of their homes and the practicality of being able to reach a toilet quickly with very young children.430 There is also the issue of neglect. The extent of the supervision needed for young children is closely tied to conditions within the home. Children under four are the primary victims of preventable injuries within the home, for instance, and these are most common in the 429 430

see for instance Bradlow, Bolnick and Shearing 2011; D’Cruz, McGranahan and Sumithre 2009 Bartlett and Iltus 2007


context of poverty and difficult living conditions.431 Burns, poisoning, falls for this age group, for can all be related to the quality of housing and its near surroundings. There are numerous measures that can be taken to protect young children from hazards in the home. These call for the critical assessment of risks – safety is often something that is seen as an issue only after there has been a problem, and people are often quite fatalistic about “accidents”, failing to view them as events that can be anticipated and prevented. One possibility is home visits by local volunteers trained to identify hazards and suggest improvements. This could well be a role for a corps of older children. Some of suggestions from low-income countries for protective housing modifications include the provision of safe storage for poisons and medicines; places to cook up off the floor; barriers between cooking areas and the rest of the house; rails around flat roof tops, covers for wells and so on. 432 In places where injury is a concern, collaborative efforts with caregivers to identify and address sources of risk can make a big difference. In addition to minimizing injury, it can lower frustration levels for adults who are dealing with active young children. Safe space for play for young children immediately outside a home can make a big difference – something as simple as shallow wide steps leading outdoors, or extra wide hallways in apartment buildings. The important thing is that the needs of young children be kept in mind when physical modifications are considered. Neighbourhood and common space The kind of “eyes on the street” neighborhoods that make children safe and welcome and that encourage the growth of social capital are the product of many large and small components acting together, not a matter of a some universal blueprint. But there are a number of simple fixes, locally identifiable, that can help to sustain a strong social fabric. In settlements where housing is tight and households are overcrowded, common space outside of the home can provide valued relief. The availability of local places where both adults and children can get away from household tensions for some of their daily activities, and where social ties can be supported and strengthened, can be addressed in piecemeal ways or planned into larger scale slum upgrading or new construction. Too often, common space is not something that is seriously considered as a vital part of site planning, or it may be inserted by planners who have little insight into the way people actually use these spaces – for instance with playgrounds on the far edge of settlements that few young children ever have the chance to use, because caregivers have little time to take them there. In most cases people create their spaces and opportunities informally – a water point where women congregate to talk as they collect water, a teashop where men meet at the end of the day, a small patch of vacant land where boys play cricket, the steps to a neighbourhood temple where small children chase each other up and down while their mothers wash laundry nearby. Anupamma Nallari points out, in the context of Indian slums, that the concept of common space can be an elusive one. Women asked about these spaces were often bewildered 431 432

Peden et al 2008 Bartlett 2002


until the questions were recast in terms of the functions performed there. Common space as a construct, in other words, was defined and viewed by these women primarily through the lens of utility.433 But sometimes, especially in the course of local upgrading, these uses and the needs they represent must be actively identified and addressed – whether it is the need of women to have a convenient place to wash clothes without provoking tensions with their neighbours, or the desire of young girls to have spaces where they can sit together and talk without being harassed or viewed with disapproval, or space for young boys to play cricket without being yelled at. Space for children’s play is an important ingredient of common neighborhood space, and should be met in ways that really respond to expressed needs. It cannot be overstressed that young children prefer to play close to home, that their caregivers are happiest when they are close by, and that elaborate provision is unnecessary. The critical requirement is that children’s play be valued enough to allow the opportunity for many small informal solutions. Whenever possible, the provision of safe space for this purpose immediately outside the home, or very close by, should be a priority in the planning and financing of housing for families with young children. Safe outdoor play space offers numerous advantages for children and their caregivers. Not only is it a critical source of relief from the stresses of crowded indoor time. It also provides the opportunity to experiment safely with autonomy, attachment and separation, to the long-term benefit of both parents and children and the ways they relate to one another.434 For young children in communities where people face difficult living conditions and the overburdened schedules that accompany them, the presence of a good early childhood programme can make a huge difference. This is not exactly a physical environment modification, but it is a valuable response to many problems within the physical environment, lessening the potential for neglect, for abusive behaviour by overstressed parents, and for the exploitation of older siblings who may be prevented from attending school because of the need for childcare. There is also evidence that those children who experience opportunities for early stimulation are less likely to become violent adults.435 In especially violent communities, safe spaces for older children close to home can also be a helpful response – somewhere away from home where they can safely spend time with other children. This is an especially important consideration for older girls, who may otherwise seldom have the opportunity to socialize together outside of home.436 Provision of basic infrastructure and services Provision of basic local infrastructure, while it seems initially remote from the issue of violence, is related to child protection in numerous ways. Decent levels of provision can help to keep women from becoming so bone weary that they cannot avoid neglecting their small children. Well placed, well maintained, well lit toilets and water points can also ensure that everyday routines do not become the occasion for tensions between 433

Nallari 2013 Bartlett 1997 435 Walker et al 2011 436 Bartlett and Iltus 2007 434


neighbours, or for harassment and abuse. Adequate waste collection can help foster the local stewardship of common space, rather than an abdication of control. Mahila Milan, the women’s savings group collective in Mumbai, also a member of SDI, became involved in the construction of community toilets some years ago. They found that an important consideration in ensuring that toilets are safe, trouble-free zones is placing them in the center of neighbourhoods rather than off at the periphery somewhere. The toilet blocks they build are properly lit and maintained, and also include space where women can do laundry and an extra floor which can house a caretaker or provide space for local meetings or for a child care center. Sometimes they include an adjacent open-air children’s toilet which can accommodate many small children at a time. Small children are fearful of falling into the large holes of adult pit latrines, and also hate waiting in line for a toilet stall. These children’s toilets also make it far less likely that they will end up squatting in the alleyway outside their house, infuriating neighbours and adding to their mothers’ burdens. These community toilets are often opened with a neighbourhood celebration – a so-called “toilet festival” – which involves flowers, invitations to local authorities, ribbon cutting ceremonies. Making clean toilets an accepted and even celebrated center of everyday life in this way, rather than a dark filthy place to be avoided as much as possible can do a lot to change the conflation of this basic need with fear, violence, stigma and humiliation. Young girls can now use a toilet without feeling abased by their own bodily functions.437 The local identification of places where street lights or crossing lights are needed, and the provision of these lights, can also make a big difference to children’s sense of safety.438 Research by Liebermann and Coulson, cited above, makes it clear that trouble spots can be extremely specific and related to particular features of the local environment that may be easily addressed. They also remind us that physical environment problems do not always call for environmental solutions. The solution to the problem of a dark alley where children were repeatedly mugged was not lighting, for instance, but ensuring that school staff were physically present there at the beginning and end of school when children were going back and forth.439 The presence of playworkers (a common profession supported by local government in many European cities, but a role that can also be filled by volunteers) can also make a big difference to parents’ willingness to have their children play away from home in less secure neighbourhoods. As pointed out above, this can also be a way of addressing the bullying that can be such a protection issue for children in many schools. The documented threat that many children feel in passing alcohol outlets could also be minimized by the reliable presence of people, paid or unpaid, who are able to keep order and address harassment. This is the proper role of community police, an unfortunately rare commodity in most of the world’s communities.


Burra, Patel and Kerr 2003 Kruger and Chawla 2005 439 Lieberman and Coulson 2004 438


Supportive policing Supportive community policing can be a major asset in any neighbourhood, yet those most in need of it are least likely to be well provided. In Mumbai and Pune, India, slum neighbourhood “police panchayats ” are a solution that has evolved now over the course of ten years. The idea was developed by the police commissioner in Pune, who recognized that his police force lacked the manpower and resources to patrol all the slums in the city, where most of the violence was occurring. At the same time, any solution to this issue had to take into account the inherently difficult relationship between often illegal slum dwellers and the police. The local panchayats, which work out of a room in the neighbourhood, are made up of ten locally selected residents, seven women and three men, along with one police officer. The panchayat members are authorized as police assistants and serve as a liaison between local residents and the police. They patrol their neighbourhoods, staying alert to problems, becoming involved as needed, and only referring things on to the police when necessary. They also have daily meetings at their local centres to help resolve disputes. Women form the majority of the group since they spend more time at home and know what is going on in the neighborhood. They are also in a better position to investigate any problem in depth. The implications for children are obvious, both with regard to family violence or to dangerous conditions within the larger community. With the active involvement of the panchayat, the relationship between the police and the city’s slum dwellers has been greatly improved. People are now reporting crimes and violent incidents to the police that would never have been reported before. The model has spread in India, where there are currently over 150 police panchayats, and it is starting to be adopted in other countries as well.440 A similar response is the many women’s police stations that have been established in Brazil, with the specific objective of addressing violence against women in a context where domestic violence is not taken very seriously by the judicial system. These police stations are staffed exclusively by women and they focus more on mediation between women and their partners than on judicial penalties.441 From the Bronx in New York comes a very different response – this one to repressive stop-and frisk policing rather than simply to a lack of policing. As described above, this approach to preventing gun violence before it occurs has been credited by some with reducing the rate of violent crime in the city, but it has also been hugely controversial. The Morris Justice Project focused on a 40 block neighbourhood in the South Bronx, where stop-and-frisk activity had become so commonplace that it was almost accepted as the natural order of things. Young men and adolescent boys found it impossible to move freely through their home territory without the fear of aggressive encounters, often accompanied by racial slurs. Several mothers from this neighbourhood, whose sons had been repeatedly stopped and harassed, started talking informally about this intrusive and intimidating police behavior, documenting cases and keeping each other up to date on what was happening.

440 441

Roy, Jockin and Javed 2004; with 2012 update from SPARC India McIlwaine 2013


When two researchers from the City University of New York came to the neighbourhood, eager to work with residents on local issues, the people who showed up were these mothers, along with some younger men and women, and they knew what they wanted to focus on. Together, they planned and carried out interviews, focus groups and a survey of 1000 residents, selected to be as representative as possible. They also drew on NYPD (New York Police Department) data and mapped the department’s activity and its results. Over 69 percent of those surveyed had been stopped at some time in the past, many repeatedly. Over the course of the last year there had been 4882 stop-and-frisk episodes in this 40 block area. As a result of these stops, only eight guns had been found – a 0.16 percent “success” rate. Less than 10 percent of the stops resulted in an arrest or a summons, most for minor infringements. More than half the stops had involved physical violence – clearly far more violence than the approach had actually prevented. The most significant outcome of stop-and-frisk in this neighbourhood had been the transformation of local territory into a stage for the enactment of distrust, intimidation and anger, with ripple effects for all residents. The data was made available to residents and police – most dramatically through the “illuminator event”, during which the findings were projected onto the side of a large pubic housing building one evening in the form of a letter to the NYPD (“Dear NYPD”), and read aloud through a megaphone. The letter questioned the value of any approach that required 5000 stops to secure eight weapons, and asked that the police respect local residents, not treat them as strangers or as criminals. “This is our home,” the letter repeated as a refrain.442 Owning this information, sharing it and making it visible in the streets and on the walls of the neighborhood was a galvanizing and celebratory experience, a way of reappropriating neighbourhood space. Like the terrorization by the police, it has had ripple effects. A community safety workshop is in the works; efforts to address local housing problems are planned. The visually appealing report that was produced is to be the first of series of several on local issues. T-shirts emblazoned with the findings of the study are very popular in the neighbourhood, as young people become billboards for their own information rather than corporate advertising.443 The project has also been part of a groundswell of resistance that has found expression in an ongoing court case – Floyd vs City of New York – an extended trial of the NYPD’s stop and frisk approach during which the presiding judge has been clearly critical of a procedure that involves such a high error rate and that appears to be driven primarily by quotas and racial profiling.444 It remains to be seen how responsive the NYPD is to these efforts. The efforts have rallied public outrage however. And like the place-bound information gathering of the federations of the urban poor, the process is stimulating the identity, the organization and the capacity of a community to have a voice and to make change.

442 443 Personal communication, Hillary Caldwell 444 Goldstein 2013


Places for community building Social capital is widely recognized as a factor in addressing local tensions and outbreaks of violence.445 Less often considered are the physical properties of a community that can contribute to strong social ties. Gunnar Svendsen argues that face-to-face meetings in geographic space are what social capital is all about. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India for instance have been far more common in large cities where people live in segregated areas and have little contact with one another; in rural villages where daily contact is the norm, communal violence is less of an issue. But both physical proximity and conducive spaces are crucial to this. Svendsen asks, “Where do people really meet and get to know each other? Do some places stimulate formation of intra- and inter-group networks more than others?”446 He discusses specifically how large multifunctional meeting places within communities can counteract segregation between community factions. His examples are mostly from Scandinavia and the Netherlands, where arguably a historical ethos of democracy, equality, mutual trust and cooperation may contribute to the effectiveness of such meeting places. But there are also documented experiences from the South. Slum Dwellers International again provides good examples. A history of SPARC, the support NGO in India for that country’s urban poor federations, points to the importance of common meeting space as a catalyst for strong community networks. According to founder Sheela Patel, women in poverty know what changes they need. But “to develop the experience and skills to reflect together on their situation, they need a safe, local space where they can gather. Being marginalised means being cut off from networks and spaces of information and communication. We became SPARC, the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres, because we saw the need for a physical space to address this reality.”447 As these federations have spread in country after country, the identification or creation of such a space has remained a basic starting point, along with the enumeration of households and residents and the mapping of the neighbourhood, and the establishment of savings groups, for developing a community identity and the clarity to act on joint priorities. In the former Yugoslavia, Collete Daiute describes the creation of community centers, often with international funding, which have provided the context for new ways of responding to the local scene in the aftermath of large scale violence. Many of these centres have apparently fostered the organization of young people to mend the ruptures in their physical surroundings, rebuilding destroyed bridges, building day care centers, in one case reclaiming a lake filled with trash from a nearby refugee camp.448


Cox 2009 Svendsen, Gunnar Lind Haase 2010 447 Patel and Bartlett 2009, page 5 448 Daiute 2011 446


Vegetation and access to nature The considerable body of work pointing to the restorative qualities of nature and the role of vegetation in minimizing stress449 makes it clear that the provision of trees and natural spaces must rank high in efforts to relieve the effects of violence for children and their families. Nancy Wells and Gary Evans note that even among rural children, more rather t nature makes a difference, and the higher the level of stressful events, the stronger the effect of the natural surroundings.450 Kuo and Sullivan, as noted, have amassed a good deal of systematic comparative evidence over a number of years around the positive influence of trees in inner city housing blocks in Chicago. Their work has continued, and a 1996 summary of their findings still holds true: “We are finding less violence in urban public housing where there are trees. Residents from buildings with trees report using more constructive, less violent ways of dealing with conflict in their homes. They report using reasoning more often in conflicts with their children, and they report significantly less use of severe violence. And in conflicts with their partners, they report less use of physical violence than do residents living in buildings without trees.”451 Kuo’s work has resulted, among other things, in a transformation of the face of low-income public housing in Chicago, with a $10 million tree planting campaign. Vegetation has been used to good effect with a very different emphasis in Nakuru, Kenya, where in the aftermath of intense, long-lasting post-election ethnic violence in 2008, tree planting has been central to a peace initiative with children. Peace club members have been involved in establishing and maintaining tree nurseries and planting the trees as a practical and symbolic contribution to the restoration of the local environment. This does not tackle the complex land distribution issues that contribute to the country’s violence, but it is an opportunity for positive contact between children belonging to different ethnic groups and uses care for the land as a way to repair the relationship with both the environment and other people.452 The authors of the report on this tree nursery initiative point to the obvious influence of Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmental and political activist who founded the Green Belt Movement. It is worth noting that although Maathai’s work was focused on replanting denuded rural areas, she also expressed her conviction that a tree planting campaign in Kenya’s urban slums would do a great deal to lessen stress and improve the quality of life there.453 Even in the absence of systematic research on the impacts of tree planting for stress and violence in low-income countries, the qualitative evidence that is available on the priority that children give to natural spaces and vegetation should be sufficient to encourage this as a focus in both rural and urban areas for child-protection efforts as well as for more broad-based development and upgrading.


for instance, Van den Berg, Hartig and Staats 2007 Wells and Evans 2003 451 Sullivan and Kuo 1996 452 Zinck and Eyber 2012 453 Personal communication 2000 450


Responding to violence in school and on the way to school Many of the protection issues related to children’s safe use of public space come to the fore around the issue of getting to school each day. One response to this has been the various safe routes to school initiatives, which have developed in different countries, primarily in the North.454 In most cases, programmes involve primarily making streets safer for biking and walking, and training children to become more active, aware and competent in dealing with their surroundings. But there has also been documentation of a Buenos Aires effort which involved far more local participation. Storeowners, neighbours and school staff were enlisted as volunteers to pay attention to children as they walked back and forth to school. Children were asked to use specific streets where merchants, neighbours, and police were ready to watch out for them. If they had problems, children were free to come into any participating store that had placed a visible sign in its window, and to ask for help, or call their parents or the police if needed. By 2004, when the report was written, there were eight of these “safe corridors” used by 28,000 students walking to 59 city schools every day.455 The basic components of such a programme could certainly be widely adapted. A system like this admittedly raises its own protection issues, providing a potential opening for predatory individuals. This would have to be carefully dealt with anywhere, but the net gains could be substantial. Not all children live close enough to school to walk, however. Again, the very local nature of appropriate responses cannot be overstressed. During work after the tsunami in a small Tamil Nadu neighbourhood, my colleagues and I were concerned about the unprotected proximity of railroad tracks at one end of the neighbourhood. We felt sure that local residents should be encouraged to fence this area off as they worked to upgrade after the tsunami’s destruction. After a week in the settlement, we revised our hasty judgement. Only one train a day came down the track – slowly and with loud warnings whenever it approached a settlement. Local children used the tracks quite safely to get to school and back. It was a quiet route that allowed for conversation and play along the way, and it provided an alternative to the very congested dangerous street that they would otherwise have had to walk along. Here the trick was not identifying a safe route to school, but ensuring that over-vigilant authorities or poorly informed consultants not eliminate an existing solution. Another helpful support could also be the more ready availability of transport for children – few countries actually have a dedicated system of school buses, but vouchers can be made available allowing school children free transportation.456 This can carry its own hazards, however. As Mabala and Cooksey report from Tanzania, where children pay just a fraction of the adult bus ticket price, this can result in the unwillingness of drivers to take children on board and can make children more vulnerable to harassment and abuse.457 Greater oversight of bus drivers, or the availability of special staff or volunteers to ride public transport during the hours before and after school could help to ensure that children travel safely. Transport for teachers can also be a help. In a remote and violent 454

For instance, Moore and Cosco 2004 456 Carruthers, Dick and Saurkar 2005 457 Mabala and Cooksey 2008 455


part of Afghanistan, girls’ attendance and success at school went way up when the number of women teachers increased after they were provided with secure transport from the towns where they lived to the schools.458 Most responses within schools to violence, whether corporal punishment or sexual harassment and abuse, have focused on awareness raising, codes of conduct and mechanisms to ensure the detection and reporting of abuses. Some responses, however, have taken a more physical form. In West and Central Africa, for instance, documented initiatives have included the creation of girls’ clubs to provide girls with a safe place to discuss the issues they face in school and to build their capacity to deal with them. There is also the growing emphasis on separate latrines for girls, which can contribute to their willingness to attend school, and their families’ willingness to allow it.459 In Liberia support was also given to the establishment of safe houses which provide temporary shelter for girls who have been abused in school and who cannot return to their communities and families.460 CPTED approaches to safer streets and community spaces CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) continues to be an active field, as noted above, and has become both more nuanced and systematic over the decades since it was introduced.461 A recent New York Times article reported on Tassafaronga Village, an affordable housing development in East Oakland, California, which replaced a dilapidated fenced compound of grim concrete public housing, notoriously dangerous. Instead of being a fortress surrounded by speeding cars, the new design opens the housing to the neighbourhood with pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, narrowed streets and raised intersections, which bring traffic to a crawl. It is built in a U around a heavily used central garden, and on the roof there is additional shared garden space for tenants. Last year the police department reported a 25 percent drop in reported crime in the area.462 Although still primarily used in high income countries, CPTED has increasingly become a more broadly used feature of crime and violence prevention efforts. The applications of the approach within low income countries have tended to stress the degree to which disparities in living conditions contribute to the chain of causes of criminal activity, and the importance of achieving greater spatial integration. A paper discussing the use of CPTED approaches in poor communities in Brazil, Chile and South Africa emphasizes many of the more general principles already discussed here, including the very local nature of successful interventions, the critical importance of community involvement, and need for the buy-in and commitment on the part of local government. Local residents are acutely aware of the nature and location of problems in their communities, and


Bernard 2012 Jasper, Le and Bartram 2012 460 ActionAid, Plan, Save the Children, UNICEF (2010) 461 Sorensen et al 2000 462 Kimmelman, Michael 2012a 459


Figure 37. Participants’ cognitive map.

ndividual maps is then safety transferred onto largecommunity audits, victim surveys and mapping exercises have been successful to identify priorities attention ach participantways plots his/her houseforand the and improvement. 463 tified. This process elicits lively discussion Figure xx: Mapping dangerous places in a local neighbourhood

Source: Stephens, Vargas and Kruger 2004 Figure 39. Dangerous places indicated on a map.


The goal of reducing crime can be a strong incentive for local governments to get on

board with funding and support, of which cipants visit the crime hot spots and much discuss theis funneled toward the improvement of the local for environment through numerous small scale interventions such as cleaning up h place, allowing the sharing of different dangerous open areas, creating clear activity zones, improving lighting, closing illegal etc. Photos areliquor taken which will bespecific usedhoton theIn the experience of CPTED experts, the outlets and monitoring spots. photo taking acts as anofimportant empowerment involvement children is often fundamental to the success of the process – not only do they have an intimate knowledge of theirfor ownthe neighbourhoods, but their involvement view-finder allows a different perspective also tends to interest and attract the adults in their communities.464 ention on the specific place.

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A South African manual on CPTED approaches stresses the importance of combining law enforcement, social prevention of crime and situational prevention (that is, through the modification of the environment) and it includes such measures as the community surveillance and monitoring of specific places, the provision of recreational spaces for young people and the modification of public space to reduce the opportunities for crime.465 This manual also goes well beyond these more traditional CPTED approaches for high income countries by stressing the need for community safety audits that take into account the full range of threats to safety in a neighbourhood. Domestic assault, for instance, receives as much attention as muggings or property crime, and some of the types of intervention discussed include the creation of safe houses for women, and restrictions in the availability of alcohol.


Stephens, Vargas and Kruger 2004 Stephens,Vargas, Kruger 2004 465 Lieberman and Landman 2000 464


Caroline Moser, focusing on gender-based violence, describes the specific case of Khayelitsha township, Cape Town, South Africa, where the initial audit found a strong relationship between violent episodes and inadequate infrastructure, including distant latrines, unsafe transportation hubs and poor lighting. Responses were far-reaching and covered many of the solutions already discussed here, both physical and social.466 Table xx: Violence prevention through urban upgrading – The Khayelitsha Project

Source: Summarized by Moser, Winton and Moser (2005) from Cape Town records


Moser 2009


Reintegrating urban space The evidence on the destructive impacts of segregated space within the urban landscape points to the need for the assertive control of public space by local municipalities, in the face of growing privatization and enclosure. This is a serious challenge, given the strength of this trend in cities around the world. Evidence has been emerging, however, on the positive impact of efforts to reintegrate the urban fabric in places where social segregation is spatially expressed. In Medellin, Colombia, for instance, Sergio Fajardo, who was the mayor between 2003 and 2007, focused on projects to link some of the city’s more marginalized communities to the rest of the city and to improve the amenities available within them. As part of this effort, a network of ambitious “library parks” was built to embody the notion that in a new Medellin, violence could be addressed through knowledge and social inclusion. There have been a number of PUIs (Projecto Urbano Integral) which have focused primarily on physical projects involving access and public space, including improved lighting, pathways, bridges, stairs, cable cars and escalators climbing steep shanty town hills, parks and plazas, soccer fields – things that draw people into common space. Community-based planning organizations have been supported by the municipality to come up with smaller projects that complement and expand on the PUIs.467 The current mayor is also embracing architectural activism, planning numerous projects that will connect the city and enhance the quality of life in poor communities. The murder rate is reported to be 15 percent of what it was during the heyday of the violence.468 It can be difficult, of course, to determine whether these kinds of interventions have in fact been responsible for changes in rates of violence, given that other efforts to counter violence were also happening city-wide. But by happy coincidence there was a large household survey in Medellin prior to these interventions. This provided the baseline for a natural experiment to try to isolate the effects of these place-based interventions. In a study drawing on these data, 25 intervention neighbourhoods were selected, and cluster analysis was used to select 23 matched comparison neighbourhoods which did not receive the interventions. The study found that between 2003 and 2008, the decline in the homicide rate in the intervention neighbourhoods was 66 percent greater than in the comparison neighbourhoods, and that resident reports of violence dropped by 75 percent more.469 A related effort on a much larger scale is not specifically oriented to violence reduction, but also had the effect of mending the urban fabric through many small scale communitydriven upgrading projects within local neighborhoods. This is the government sponsored Baan Mankong programme in Thailand which by 2009 was reaching at least half the country’s poor urban communities. This demand-driven community-managed programme draws on government funding to make multiple local improvements tailored to each community’s needs and priorities and integrate them into the framework of larger city 467

Sertich 2010 Kimmelman 2012 469 Cerda et al 2012 468


development. Secure tenure is negotiated as part of the programme. In the process, local community organizations become experienced in handling finances, negotiating with a range of partners within the city and building horizontal links to other neighbourhoods, in a process somewhat similar to that of SDI federations. According to Somsook Boonyabancha, this liberates communities from the “vertical strings of patronage” which in many places can be closely related to the kinds of coercion and control that can erupt into violence. Boonyabancha stresses the point that physical upgrading, although ostensibly the objective of the programme, is actually the most superficial part of the process, simply the avenue through which people make larger and deeper changes in their collective capacity and their relationship to power structures within the city at large.470 The choices made in the course of physical upgrading are critical in this regard – an opportunity for people to move beyond being the passive recipients (or victims) of the choices and decisions of others more powerful than themselves. In the context of urban reintegration, these choices can be telling. Almost a quarter of all the projects undertaken in the course of this process have been the building or improvement of roads and pathways – and this in a setting where housing, toilets and water might be considered the most important needs. Boonyabancha and colleagues speculate as to why this might be the case, and they point to both the practical and symbolic importance of this choice. “… a road – even a very narrow one – provides a common open space in a crowded community, which can function as a playground, meeting place, market, workshop or festival venue. A block of toilets or a water supply system can certainly improve conditions, but a paved road has a greater symbolic power to change both internal and external perceptions of a community. A community with a proper road is part of the larger society. Most informal settlements are isolated, even when they are in the middle of a city. A paved road is a visible improvement and a potent symbol of connectedness, physically and symbolically linking the quasi-invisible community with the formal city” (p 442)471 Protective measures in disaster and emergency situations There is growing awareness of the impact of dysfunctional post-emergency environments for children, but there has been comparatively little material on measures to counter the problems. One notable exception has been the provision of “safe play areas” or “childfriendly spaces”, especially for younger children,472 an effort in the turmoil of conflict, or within emergency camps and shelters, to provide some supervised place where children will be safe and where they can relieve their distress and anxiety through play with other children. These spaces fill an enormously important function, but they also present a dilemma in that they provide a band-aid solution to a far deeper set of problems. Within the context of post-emergency camps, although these play areas are designed to be very temporary measures, the duration of people’s stay in often abysmal physical conditions requires that they become longer term solutions. In this situation, more extensive attention to the safety and attractiveness of the local environment would surely be 470

Boonyabancha 2005 Boonyabancha, Carcellar and Kerr 2012 472 The criteria for these are described, for instance, in Prabhu 2007 471


preferable. But as long as the temporary measure is in place, there may be less incentive for residents to tackle the larger problem. Jason Hart also suggests that in Palestine, important as the provision of “safe spaces” may be as a child protection measure within a dangerous environment, their very creation within the larger prison that is home to children, could be viewed as an implicit acceptance of an intrinsically impossible situation. These are challenging issues for child protection agencies, which may have little scope for affecting the larger situation. However, it would seem that wherever possible the creation of alternative spaces must happen within the context of support for larger measures. An important contribution on this front within the emergency front has been the recent preparation of the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, reviewed by over 400 people from agencies in 40 countries, and tested in the field in a range of humanitarian contexts.473 Following the structure of the well known Sphere standards, each standard here is accompanied by key actions, indicators, targets and detailed guidance notes. Going beyond “child friendly spaces”, the manual details issues around water and sanitation, shelter and camp management, making it clear that a range of deficiencies in these areas can put children at risk of physical and sexual violence. Guidance on water and sanitation, for instance, stresses the fact that provision must be adequate for health, but must also be situated and managed in ways that keep children and women safe; toilet blocks must be easily accessible, visible, well lit, lockable, separated by sex and designed to ensure privacy and dignity and to accommodate young children’s needs. For very young children, it should be easy and safe for caregivers to dispose of faeces and launder diapers. Schedules for water distribution should be set up in consultation with girls and women, ensuring that they can reach their shelters while it is light out. The manual also acknowledges the importance of secure shelter designed to flexibly accommodate household needs including privacy. Special attention is given to the needs of children separated from family. Standards are not always reflected in practice, but this is an important step. If these same standards were met under “normal” non-emergency conditions, millions of children and women worldwide would be safer. The importance of people’s involvement in addressing their own environments becomes if anything more vital in these settings than any other. The chance to manage and improve their current conditions is a practical response to the demoralization of displaced people, for whom weeks and months can drag by without any sense of progress, or any opportunity to effect a change. The stress associated with losing control over life in this way can be particularly acute, and the opportunity, at the very least, to take active charge of camp or settlement conditions can be critical to encouraging the necessary morale for people to provide the care and support their children need – not to mention a local setting that is less threatening. Conversations with people after the 2004 tsunami revealed very different mindsets on the part of who were passive recipients of NGO services, and those who were supported to organize themselves within an emergency camp to negotiate with well-meaning providers, setting priorities and the terms on which help was delivered.474 A more pro-active, confident outlook makes it far more likely that social problems will 473


CPWG 2012 Conversations in the course of visits in Thailand, Sri Lanka and other post tsunami sites.


also be more adequately dealt with. For children, too, there is ample evidence of the psychologically protective impact of problem solving, active involvement in improving the post-disaster environment and routines that provide predictable structure to the day and a sense of responsibility.475 Among response organizations and agencies, however, in the pressure and rush to deal with chaotic post-emergency situations, the skills and resources of those affected are often overlooked and by-passed, to the detriment of all. There are numerous specific responses that may be relevant as part of joint planning and activity: negotiated attention to the way camp space and shelter space is allocated and divided to ensure optimal privacy; ways to make it possible to wash and dress without being watched or harassed, lighted ways to toilets, access to safe play space that goes beyond a few staffed hours a day; efforts to ensure that schooling and early childhood care is available; attention to waste removal, drainage, maintenance of sanitation and water points – not only for health but for general pride and morale. Chawla points to the value of natural spaces in this context in particular, noting that the discussion of protective factors for children under the stress of extreme events has given little attention to this proven support.476 Although more attention is given to conditions during displacement, many of the same principles are relevant to preparing for disasters in ways that are most likely to ensure the optimal protection of children – identifying potential problems along with communities, and taking joint steps in advance wherever possible, again allowing children an active role – for instance in preparing evacuation routes, provisioning potential emergency shelters and so on. Rebuilding after disaster, war, displacement similarly calls on the same principles of local involvement.477

Conclusion Why would paving roads be suggested here as a rational response to the violence and neglect that distorts the lives of so many young children? This appears farfetched. It should be acknowledged, in fact, that targeted research investigating the impact of road paving projects found no connection with rates of violence.478 But taken in context, the connections are compelling. The communities in Thailand that choose to upgrade their neighbourhoods by first paving their roads are engaged in a profound process. They are working together, first of all, free from the “vertical strings of patronage,” to identify their problems and prioritize solutions. In making collaborative decisions about concrete ways to improve their shared surroundings, they are operating on multiple levels. In cases where road paving is the action of choice, they are taking the practical and symbolic step of connecting themselves 475

Boyden and Mann 2005; Guyot 2007 Chawla in press 477 Bartlett and Iltus 2007 478 Gonzalez-Navarro 2010 476


and their marginal settlements to the larger city – becoming citizens in effect. At the same time, they are working to improve a shared space that serves them in a multitude of ways. Streets allow for mobility but are also a place to meet people, to talk, to play, to buy and sell, to see and be seen. The use of this shared asset, but even more important the negotiation, decision-making and planning that precede it, can feed the selfperpetuating project of community building, repairing the social fabric along with the physical terrain. This disposition towards involvement and stewardship is fundamental to the capacity to care as a community for the community’s children. The fact that road paving projects were not found in a broader review to affect rates of violence is a moot point here. Paved roads in the absence of that pro-active local involvement may mean little or nothing to the capacity for community caring. What counts most here is the catalytic effect that the physical project can provide, stimulating greater ownership and an enhanced sense of control. Of course, road paving does not have unique value here. It’s an appealing example partly because of its symbolic value and partly because it has so little obvious relevance to a concern with young children and violence. We could also be talking about sanitation or secure tenure or waste removal or space where boys can play cricket without riling tempers. All of these things, in their absence, are a tangible shorthand for the systemic inequities that are so entwined with violence. Patterns of deprivation and exclusion, often officially sanctioned and supported, may constitute a form of violence in and of themselves, but they also feed violence of the most direct and immediate kind. Changing these patterns takes political will at the highest levels. But the inclusion in that process of those who have been excluded is also fundamental to the process of addressing inequity. Let’s start from the other end – from the child who is beaten or neglected, who watches her mother cringe when her father’s hand is raised, who sees her elder brother come home wounded and angry from a clash on the street. There is abundant evidence of the profound effects that violence, experienced or witnessed, can have on young children. It breaks bodies and minds and exerts an insidious influence even at a cellular level. The effects are immediate but can also linger, undermining health, trust, capability. This applies not only to physical violence, but also to psychological abuse and even neglect. These forms of violence can also have a deep and durable impact. We have become more accustomed to thinking of violence as emerging from social circumstances. We recognize that abusive parents were probably beaten themselves, that men whose manhood is sabotaged by unemployment are more prone to drinking and wife beating. We acknowledge that older brothers who riot in the streets may be responding to frustration at inequity and oppression. Structural violence is more than a metaphor. Going beyond the social ecology of violence to consider the material and spatial context is revealing in this respect. It does not simply add another facet to our understanding of violence. It provides a link between the metaphor of structural violence and the stark reality of intimate personal harm. Insecure tenure, crowded housing, wretched provision for basic needs, the walls and barbed wire that segregate the rich from the poor – the violence inherent in these things becomes apparent in the violence that they spawn. Housing, neighbourhood space, territorial boundaries are the warp in the social fabric.


The relations of power that are the context for violence within households, within communities and the wider society are often expressed through control over space and the material conditions of life. Stress plays a fundamental mediating role in this relationship. Noise, crowding, dilapidation, insecurity contribute to stress in a myriad of ways. Standing in line to use a dark, foul smelling, overflowing public toilet is taxing in itself. When the fear of harassment – or just the anxiety about being late for work – are added to the indignity of these sub-human conditions, the stress is amplified. Long term or repeated stress means constant wear and tear on the human system, undermining physical and mental health, increasing both aggression and vulnerability. There are direct connections between the accumulation of stressful physical conditions and the occurrence of violence. Violence in turn shapes the experience of the material world, diminishing children’s lives and opportunities. Going beyond a social perspective on violence makes it possible to consider alternatives that may help to shift the intricate pattern of circumstances in play. Considering material and spatial realities encourages a more rooted approach to child protection. It brings into sharper focus the fact that awareness campaigns or codes of conduct or trauma counseling are necessarily partial approaches, exposed for their thinness by the continued existence of the substrate of violence – or by the continued absence of roots, the lack of a place where true dwelling is possible. Streetlights, as discussed before, are no more a solution to the problem of community violence than paved roads are. In the absence of broader equity, streetlights, like paved roads, are a band aid. But they can represent a catalytic process more substantial than a focus group to remind young girls to be careful. Working to install street lights means taking the girls’ perspectives seriously, acknowledging that a fear of walking in their own neighbourhoods is not just their problem. It requires negotiation with other people. There must be some agreement that this is a priority. A case must be made. Local authorities must be pulled in. Funds must be secured. As discussions take place, attention may be brought, perhaps, to the lack of policing in the area, to the alcohol outlets that are open at all hours. By the time a group of people has come together with enough energy and organization to address the need for street lights, a more expansive process has been set in place. Neighbours who may have assumed that a public street is no place for a young girl, have now made an investment of their time, which can mean a vested interest in protecting all their children and in improving their surroundings more generally. The street lights become an entry point, like the paved road, a rallying point for a more aware community, for negotiations and partnerships that may lead to other things. The implications go deep, even for the youngest children. It is of course naïve to see streetlights or roads, toilets, trees or property titles for women as any kind of panacea when they are just isolated phenomena. They can for sure have a direct impact on the lives of families and children, reducing stress, increasing a sense of control over life, in some cases decreasing opportunities for predatory behaviour. But the deeper difference lies in the process that these things can jump start. A commitment to improving the physical conditions of life, making homes that really work for families, 101

neighbourhoods that call up pride, strengthen community ties and connect people to the larger world – these things don’t solve the problem of violence, but they are an essential foundation.

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