A video shows a little child happily returning home after a football match with his friends only to find his dad angrily waiting to punish him for going out without permission. As the child is brutally beaten in order to “recognise the mistake he has made”, his sister sits helplessly crying, knowing there is nothing she can do to protect her brother from being hit every day. The video is a part of the United Nations Children Fund’s (UNICEF) latest online campaign, #CalmNotHarm, that was launched earlier this month.
For many children in Egypt, to be “well-raised” means having to go through emotional and physical abuse, which, according to their parents, develops them become better people and is necessary in raising them. The abuse goes from yelling, cursing, and underestimating children’s abilities to extreme forms of physical abuse like slapping and hitting.
The campaign is organised by UNICEF in collaboration with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) and under the support of the European Union (EU).
“Violence against children takes multiple forms and happens everywhere and Egypt is no exception. It’s a vicious cycle that erodes family structures and social cohesion,” said UNICEF representative Bruno Maes. “Through this campaign, we aim to protect children from violence and promote positive parenting skills.”
93% of children are exposed to different types of abuse under the name of discipline. 78% of these children age 14 and under are victims of physical violence, according to the 2014 Egypt Demographic and Health Survey. Those children suffer from getting hit by hands, sticks, or belts.
Another study shows that 91% of children are exposed to emotional exploitation by their parents. This includes being yelled at or called by bad names.
The campaign targets teaching parents new parenting methods by which children are raised well while guaranteeing the children’s physical and psychological health. “Most of the violence children are exposed to occurs at home. However, parents are eager to learn and apply new parenting methods,” Maes added.
Through many social media videos and posts, UNICEF sends parents messages with different information and ideas on how to communicate with children in order to get them to do what is required of them. These include posts featuring appropriate parenting skills, ways to keep calm while dealing with children’s mistakes, real life situations that most parents face while raising with their children, and videos of the negative messages violence sends to children.
“We know that parents love their children and that often they use violent disciplinary practices either because that is how they were raised themselves or because they do not know of any alternatives,” Maes said. “However, studies show that violence against children, particularly repeated acts of both physical and psychological violence, can have deleterious effects on children’s development, including their cognitive functions and their physical and emotional well-being.”
This sort of treatment also has behavioural consequences and can lead the child to exhibit anti-social and destructive behaviour, not attend school, and even develop substance abuse problems. These effects do not, as some people may believe, go away once the child becomes an adult. Long-term exposure to violence can result in trauma, anxiety, depression, or other health problems, explained Maes.
Throughout the whole holy month, the campaign managed to attract positive feedback from parents who did not know the appropriate methods of disciplining and managing their children and who have been complaining from their children’s bad attitude.
Maes explained that the campaign was launched during Ramadan meaningfully as the holy month is a time of family relations and cohesion. “Ramadan is the month of mercy and good deeds, and it is the time when parents should know their actions’ effect on their children’s welfare.”
Currently, the campaign is mainly working on social media platforms in order to reach as many people as possible. Nevertheless, UNICEF is working with government partners to develop a national parenting programme. The objective of this programme will be to work directly with families and parents at the community level to provide them with the tools and skills they need to cope with the stress of being parents and raise their children using non-violent methods.