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By Rashini Suriyaarachchi
6 April 2018

Last year in Papua New Guinea, a group of parents came together to talk about a topic many people avoid: violence at home.

Martina was one of those parents. She’s a mother of five children in the coastal village of Simbine. Like all parents, she wanted her children to grow up healthy, strive at school and pave a bright future for themselves. Just like many parents in her community, Martina used violent discipline to make sure her children did their chores and worked hard at school. 

The young mother didn’t know the dark consequences of physical punishment: that children exposed to violence at home may have more difficulty learning, exhibit violent and risky behaviour or suffer from depression and anxiety. 

Then Martina joined UNICEF’s Positive Parenting program. For six weeks, she came together with other parents in her community to talk about their challenges and learn new ways to discipline their children without violence. Read, in her words, how Martina transformed her home from a place of punishment to a space of open communication.

“I used to hit them all the time”

“Before I received the Positive Parenting training, I used to try my best to look after and discipline my children so that they would listen to me.” 

“I would hit them when they made me angry, I would hit them when they didn’t listen to me. I used to hit them all the time. I thought that was the right thing to do at the time.”

“At the Positive Parenting training, I realised that children have their rights too. When our children start learning how to talk, it is important that we don’t discipline by hitting them. My responsibility is to guide them to do the right things and discourage them from doing bad things.”

Mother with baby.
Things are different in Martina’s home since she attended UNICEF’s positive parenting training. Now, her children can grow up safe from physical punishment.
© UNICEF Australia/2017/Suriyaarachchi

"It is important that we don’t discipline by hitting them. My responsibility is to guide them to do the right things."

Martina, mother of five

“I tried using some of the techniques I learned at the training and I can see some changes in my house. I see that my children listen to me more now and they do what I ask them to do,” says Martina. 

And it’s not just her children’s behaviour that has changed - the training has also helped her relationship with her husband. 

“Now when I raise concerns about our children to my husband he tries to help me address these concerns - something he rarely did in the past. For example, I told my husband that we needed to prepare our three-year-old daughter for school and he agreed to help me buy the things that she would need for school. That’s a big change for me.”

Smiling child
Martina’s children Odilia and Martha will now grow up in a peaceful home.
© UNICEF/2017/Suriyaarachchi

“The future I want for my children is that I do my part as a parent to look after them well so that they can get a good education, get a good job and look after me and my husband later on in life. I also want my children to become good responsible community leaders when they become adults.”

Violence can mark forever

Children who are exposed to violence in the home are denied their right to a safe and stable home environment. Many are suffering silently and with little support. 

Emotional and physical abuse doesn’t leave children as they grow up - it can affect them for life. Children who are exposed to violence in the home are more likely to be at risk of:

  • Emotional stress and developmental harm. Infants and small children are especially susceptible to impaired cognitive and sensory growth.
  • Behaviour changes including excessive irritability, sleep problems, emotional distress, fear of being alone, immature behaviour and problems with toilet training and language development.
  • Poor concentration and focus in class, trouble keeping up at school and barriers to academic achievement. In one study, forty per cent of children exposed to violence at home had lower reading abilities than children from non-violent homes. 
  • Personality and behavioural problems in the form of psychosomatic illnesses, depression, suicidal tendencies and bed-wetting. 
  • Developing substance abuse issues, juvenile pregnancy and criminal behaviour.
  • Creating violent homes as adults and parents. The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence. Children who grow up with violence in the home learn early and powerful lessons about the use of violence in interpersonal relationships to dominate others, and might even be encouraged in doing so.

Help children grow up safe

Every child has the right to grow up safe from harm. Violence in the home shatters a child’s basic right to feel safe and secure in the world. Children need the violence to stop.

In Papua New Guinea and other countries in our region, UNICEF is supporting parents and governments to create safe communities for children. We’re providing emergency medical care and training community leaders to prevent and respond to violence. 

75 per cent of children in Papua New Guinea say they’ve experienced physical violence but if we all work together with parents like Martina, a whole generation of children can grow up in safe homes. Check out different ways in which UNICEF supports child protection.