Violence Against Children: UN Gets it Wrong

Violence Against Children: UN Gets it Wrong

October 29th, 2014

Robert J. Burrowes

The United Nations has just issued a report, ‘Why Children’s Protection from Violence should be at the Heart of the Post-2015 Development Agenda’ This is a worthy ideal.

Unfortunately, the UN Report does not identify the fundamental cause of violence. Hence, its recommendations, which obviously cannot and do not include addressing this cause, are effectively useless and this report will have as much impact as previous official attempts to reduce violence in our world. Given that human violence now has us on the brink of precipitating our own extinction, it is time we faced the truth and responded meaningfully.
While the report, issued by Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children, did some apparently good things (such as consulting children) and made some superficially attractive (if obvious) recommendations, apart from failing to identify the cause of violence and offering a strategy to address this, the report was also directed at the wrong audience: ‘national governments and the international community’. This is the wrong audience because killing children is an intended outcome of the global elite’s military and economic policies which are designed to consolidate elite power and corporate profit at the expense of the rest of us and the Earth itself. Why does the global elite do this? Because they are insane. If you think this claim is overstated, see ‘The Global Elite is Insane’

The report also put too much emphasis on tools such as schooling and ‘the rule of law’ without critiquing these. See ‘Do We Want School or Education?’ and ‘The Rule of Law: Unjust and Violent’

Rather than waste any more time on this UN report, let me briefly explain the cause of violence in our world and invite you to do something very personal and effective about it.

Perpetrators of violence learn their craft in childhood. If you inflict violence on a child, it learns to inflict violence on others. The terrorist suffered violence as a child. The political leader who wages war suffered violence as a child. The man who inflicts violence on women suffered violence as a child. The corporate executive who exploits working class people or those who live in Africa, Asia or Central/South America suffered violence as a child. The individual who perpetrates violence in the home, in the schoolyard or on the street suffered violence as a child.

If we want to end violence, war and exploitation then we must finally end our longest and greatest war: the adult war on children. And here’s an incentive: if we do not tackle the fundamental cause of violence, then our combined and unrelenting efforts to tackle all of its other symptoms must ultimately fail. And extinction at our own hand is inevitable.

How can I claim that violence against children is the fundamental cause of all other violence? Consider this. There is universal acceptance that behaviour is shaped by childhood experience. If it was not, we would not put such effort into education and other efforts to socialize children to fit into society. And this is why many psychologists have argued that exposure to war toys and violent video games shapes attitudes and behaviours in relation to violence.

But it is far more complex than this and, strange though it may seem, it is not just the ‘visible’ violence (such as hitting, screaming at and sexually abusing) that we normally label ‘violence’ that causes the main damage, although this is extremely damaging. The largest component of damage arises from the ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence that we adults unconsciously inflict on children during the ordinary course of the day. Tragically, the bulk of this violence occurs in the family home and at school. See ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’

So what is ‘invisible’ violence? It is the ‘little things’ we do every day, partly because we are just ‘too busy’. For example, when we do not allow time to listen to, and value, a child’s thoughts and feelings, the child learns to not listen to themSelf thus destroying their internal communication system. When we do not let a child say what they want (or ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and behavioral dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically programmed to do).

When we blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize with and/or judge a child, we both undermine their sense of Self-worth and teach them to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail, moralize and/or judge.

The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by this ‘invisible’ violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others). However, parents, teachers and other adults also actively interfere with the expression of these feelings and the behavioral responses that are naturally generated by them and it is this ‘utterly invisible’ violence that explains why the dysfunctional behavioral outcomes actually occur.

For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a child into not expressing their feelings (e.g. by screaming at them when they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behavior that is generated by their feelings (e.g. by hitting them, restraining them or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings.

However, once a child has been terrorized into suppressing their awareness of their feelings (rather than being allowed to have their feelings and to act on them) the child has also unconsciously suppressed their awareness of the reality that caused these feelings. This has many outcomes that are disastrous for the individual, for society and for nature because the individual will now easily suppress their awareness of the feelings that would tell them how to act most functionally in any given circumstance and they will progressively acquire a phenomenal variety of dysfunctional behaviors, including some that are violent towards themself, others and/or the Earth.

From the above, it should also now be apparent that punishment should never be used. ‘Punishment’, of course, is one of the words we use to obscure our awareness of the fact that we are using violence. Violence, even when we label it ‘punishment’, scares children and adults alike and cannot elicit a functional behavioural response. If someone behaves dysfunctionally, they need to be listened to, deeply, so that they can start to become consciously aware of the feelings (which will always include fear and, often, terror) that drove the dysfunctional behaviour in the first place. They then need to feel and express these feelings (including any anger) in a safe way. Only then will behavioural change in the direction of functionality be possible.

‘But these adult behaviors you have described don’t seem that bad. Can the outcome be as disastrous as you claim?’ you might ask. The problem is that there are hundreds of these ‘ordinary’, everyday behaviors that destroy the Selfhood of the child. It is ‘death by a thousand cuts’ and most children simply do not survive as Self-aware individuals. And why do we do this? We do it so that each child will fit into our model of ‘the perfect citizen’: that is, obedient and hardworking student, reliable and pliant employee/soldier, and submissive law-abiding citizen.

Moreover, once we destroy the Selfhood of a child, it has many flow-on effects. For example, once you terrorise a child into accepting certain information about themself, other people or the state of the world, the child becomes unconsciously fearful of dealing with new information, especially if this information is contradictory to what they have been terrorised into believing. As a result, the child will unconsciously dismiss new information out of hand. In short, the child has been terrorised in such a way that they are no longer capable of learning (or their learning capacity is seriously diminished by excluding any information that is not a simple extension of what they already ‘know’). If you imagine any of the bigots you know, you are imagining someone who is utterly terrified. But it’s not just the bigots; virtually all people are affected in this manner making them incapable of responding adequately to new information. This is one explanation why some people are ‘climate deniers’.

So if we want to end human violence, we must tackle all of its symptoms simultaneously but, as part of our strategy, we must also tackle the cause. Primarily, this means giving everyone, child and adult alike, all of the space they need to feel, deeply, what they want to do, and to then let them do it (or to have the feelings they naturally have if they are prevented from doing so). In the short term, this will have some dysfunctional outcomes. But it will lead to an infinitely better overall outcome than the system of emotional suppression, control and punishment which has generated the incredibly violent world in which we now find ourselves.

This all sounds pretty unpalatable doesn’t it? So each of us has a choice. We can suppress our awareness of what is unpalatable, as we have been terrorised into doing as a child, or we can feel the various feelings that we have in response to this information and then ponder ways forward. If feelings are felt and expressed then our responses can be shaped by the conscious and integrated functioning of thoughts and feelings, as evolution intended, and we can plan intelligently. The alternative is to have our unconscious fear controlling our thinking and deluding us that we are acting rationally.

It is time to end the adult war on children so that all of the other violence that emerges from this cause can end too. So what do we do?

Well, if you are willing, you can make the commitment outlined in ‘My Promise to Children’ You can also consider participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’ which maps out a fifteen-year strategy for creating a peaceful, just and sustainable world community so that all children have an ecologically viable planet on which to live. And, if you like, you can join the worldwide movement to end all violence by signing online ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’

Human beings have a simple choice. We can acknowledge the painful truth that we inflict enormous violence on our children and respond powerfully to that truth. Or we can keep deluding ourselves and, very soon now, walk powerlessly off the cliff edge to extinction. What is your choice?


Biodata: Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is and his website is at

Robert J. Burrowes

(Flame Tree Project)
(‘Why Violence?’)
(Songs of Nonviolence)