Third Quarter, 2005
Time for action - tackling violence against children
A force against violence, for justice

Violence in human relationships at family level can strengthen violent and unjust organisational, community, national and international socio-economic structures. But there is no cause to be fatalistic. We must follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, in pro-actively resisting all forms of violence.

VIOLENCE IS A MAJOR SOCIAL problem facing humanity today. Families, society and the media tend to be mutually reinforcing when it comes to violence: families shape the attitudes and habits that manifest as violence in the community and in the media. In turn, families often internalise and act out the violence of society that they experience in the media and in public places.
Tragically, families nurture a variety of forms of violence in
children: verbal, affective, physical, sexual, hierarchical abuse,
and negligence. All these expressions of violence may have
serious psychological, physical and social impacts. Expressed
in human relationships at family level, they can in turn strengthen violent and unjust organisational, community, national and international socio-economic structures.
Working in health in Latin America in the last 30 years, I have clearly seen the health indicators that reflect physical violence, such as injuries from car accidents, gunshot wounds, cuts, broken arms and legs. An increase in affective violence is reflected in the growing incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS), depression, suicide, wife-battering, and the cruellest one, child sexual abuse. Social indicators such as divorce rates, street children, drug addiction, and unwanted teenage pregnancies show that the family is a place where people both experience and generate violence.
I have also seen socio-economic violence manifested in the incidence and prevalence of diseases caused by poverty, such as malnutrition, diarrhea, pneumonia, skin infections and cholera. And the number of people who are displaced, tortured or mutilated, or missing persons; racial conflicts; marginalisation of minorities; impunity for human rights violations; unjust trade rules, corporate abuse of workers, powerful countries imposing development models on poor countries, and indiscriminate destruction of ecosystems show that socio-economic violence is not going away. The social groups that are worst affected by most forms of violence are women and children.
But there is no cause to be fatalistic about the prevalence of violence. The Prince of Peace, announced by the prophet Isaiah (Is. 9:6–7 and 11:1–91 ), came to earth 2000 years ago. Jesus came “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). Unfortunately, religious teachings have been grossly misused to reproduce hierarchical and abusive structures that justify the use of violence (especially against women and children), blame victims, and perpetuate inequalities of power that lead to subjugating relationships.
Far from standing by and watching (or ignoring) the incredible suffering of children, we must follow Jesus in pro-actively resisting all forms of violence, demonstrating that life in all its fullness can be a reality for all. Rather than being on the defensive, worrying that the evil world will come inside to damage our families, churches or communities, we need to draw on God's strength and love to go against “the gates of hell” and bring about a new order of justice (with its expressions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and trust among people and the whole creation). Isaiah prophesied that peace will be like a river, and righteousness like the sea (Is.48:14–19).
Let us turn our eyes to Jesus who called His followers to avoid all kinds of verbal violence (Matthew 5:21–22), to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 23:33–34; Romans 5:10), to spurn physical violence (Matt. 26:51–53), and to leave anger and revenge (major sources of violence) in God's hands (Matt. 5:45–48; Luke 23:33–34). Children and women, the most common victims of violence, can begin to be free of it when we assume our God-given responsibility to transform the unjust structures that maintain and reproduce violence, in public places as well as within families.

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