A ‘toxic cocktail’: How life on the margins can exacerbate children’s vulnerability to violence
For too many children, the places where they should feel safe—at home, at school, in their communities—are the first and most frequent sites of violence.For these reasons we pose the question: ‘How can concepts of vulnerability and marginalisation be considered in research, policy, advocacy and programs to enhance efforts to understand what drives violence against children and what can be done about it?’ Individuals, families, and communities cannot ‘lift themselves up by their bootstraps’ if the historical and political systems and structures within which they exist—operating at sub-national, national, regional and/or global levels—do not also change. As such, the concept of children’s marginalisation may help expose the “set of process[es] which ignores or relegates individuals or groups to the sidelines of political space, social negotiation, and economic bargaining. Homelessness, age, language, employment status, skill, caste, race, and religion are some criteria historically used to marginalize.” According to a UNESCO report, in this way marginalisation – or the toxic cocktail of inherited disadvantage, deeply ingrained social processes, unfair economic arrangements and bad policies - is consistent with the equity agenda, in that it illuminates factors over which children have no control… [which] matters because successful measures to tackle marginalization have to target specific underlying causes that may be missed by blanket interventions. One example of how of vulnerability and marginalisation have both been conceptualised and deployed to understand violence against children is in UNICEF’s recent Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children. The Drivers study comprised nationally-led data gathering in four country sites—Italy, Peru, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe—which focused on uncovering the institutional and structural drivers of physical, sexual and emotional violence against children, with the aim of creating an evidence base upon which policies and programs to prevent and respond to such violence could be built or improved. As its “Snapshot of Findings” notes:
Unequal power dynamics operate across gender, age and other status markers creating the circumstances within which violent acts occur. Violent acts are not merely an interaction between a child and one or more other individuals, but rather a socio-ecological phenomenon. This study shows how factors on multiple levels – individual characteristics, inter-personal relationships, and the communities in which people live – interact with institutional and structural drivers to increase or reduce a child’s risk.The Drivers study adapts Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model of human development to visually represent the interplay between micro- and meso-levels—individual, interpersonal, and community—with macro-level forces which it terms ‘drivers’. These are characterized either as structural drivers, defined as ‘rapid socio-economic transformations accompanied by economic growth but also instability, poverty, migration and gender inequality’; or institutional drivers, identified as ‘legal structures, ineffective child protection systems, weak school governance and harmful social and cultural norms, which often serve to reinforce children’s vulnerabilities.’ The Drivers study applies this socio-ecological framework to synthesizing and analysing existing data about VAC across these four diverse countries. In doing so, it posits that commonly, understandings of interpersonal violence towards children focus on risk and protective factors at the individual, interpersonal and community levels, while their interaction with structural and institutional drivers may be less explicit—yet it is exactly this interaction that delineates how, where, when and why violence occurs in children’s lives.
…a mapping of parents’ behavior may reveal factors including their financial security and/or level of education, the family’s connections to formal and non-formal support systems in their community, and prevailing beliefs influence affected by less proximal but still important factors such as living within an institutionalized caste system, or in a country where many adults or children migrate in search of work.Thus applying the concepts of both ‘vulnerability’ and ‘marginalisation’ allows for fuller recognition of the drivers that both hinder and promote girls’ and boys’ strengths and capabilities at individual, household- and community-levels. Applying these lenses is thus a critical practice for practitioners, activists, researchers and policymakers seeking to identify, put in place, and share solutions to address and prevent violence against children.