When home is the most dangerous place – millions of children are growing up in families with alcohol problems, but society is largely failing them.
To: H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson
405 East 42nd Street, NY, 10017, USA
To: H.E. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
To: Hon. Mr. Anthony Lake
UNICEF House 3 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017, USA
To: Hon. Dr. Margaret Chan
World Health Organization,
Avenue Appia 20
CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
We trust our letter finds you well.
When the global community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, governments and the UN system committed themselves to an ambitious and promising agenda. Part of the commitment is a concerted effort to end all forms of violence against children.
And a concerted effort is urgently needed. Every five minutes, a child dies as a result of violence.
As the global community gears up to end violence against children, we are concerned with a group of children whose plight has remained invisible and largely ignored: children growing up in families with alcohol problems.
Making the invisible visible
For too long, these children have remained invisible, left on their own. As their parents cannot provide shelter and often basic support, also society is failing to protect and promote the rights of these children. Without hyperbole, all available evidence shows that the problem is massive:
- In the United States, mothers convicted of child abuse are 3 times more likely to be alcoholics and fathers are 10 times more likely to be alcoholics.
- More than 50% of all confirmed abuse reports and 75% of child deaths involve the use of alcohol or other drugs by a parent.
- In the European Union, there are at least 9 million children growing up with alcohol-addicted parents.
- In Australia ca. 1 million children live in households with at least one adult being addicted.
- There are 2.6 million children of school age living with parental alcohol problems in the UK alone.
- The number of children living in homes that are ravaged by alcohol problems sky-rockets considering the countries around the world that are currently not even measuring the issue.
“Seen with the eyes of our children, the world we live in has an alcohol problem.”
Children growing up in families with alcohol problems are often exposed to physical, and/ or emotional violence and neglect, putting them at great risk:
- They are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder.
- They are three times more likely to commit suicide.
- They are almost four times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder themselves later on in life.
When home is the most dangerous place, society needs to step in and provide shelter and enabling environments that allow children to be children.
But so far, society has largely left these children to fend on their own. The problem of children growing up in families with alcohol problems is exacerbated by
- Authorities’ inability to identify children and offer support, for example in schools.
- Local and national governments’ failure to provide effective structural prevention programmes and sufficient services to affected children.
- Governments’ failure to provide treatment services for parents with alcohol problems, especially programs that help the entire family.
- The lack of enabling and safe environments for children, if home is no place to go to.
- Governments’ shortcomings in implementing the Best interest principle enshrined in Art. 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
These five aspects are interdependent and need to be integrated into efforts to end all forms of violence against children.
Change is possible
Efforts in the UK provide an example of what can be possible of civil society and decision-makers join hands. Only recently, at a parliamentary cross party debate on alcohol harm, the Health Minister, Fiona Blackstock, having heard Liam Byrne and the Shadow Health Secretary, Mr Jonathan Ashworth speak about their own experiences of parental alcoholism, pledged to work to end this social injustice in the UK.
Nacoa’s Patron, the Right Honourable Liam Byrne, who set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children of Alcoholics in 2016 will launch the Manifesto for Children of Alcoholics at the House of Commons on February 15, 2017 in honour of COA Week. To our knowledge, this is the first such Manifesto for Children of Alcoholics in the world.
The fact that hundreds of millions of children grow up exposed to neglect, abuse, and often violence due to their parents’ alcohol problems is a Child Rights issue, a public health issue, a social issue, and sustainable development issue. Sometimes, especially in low- and middle-income countries, it is a matter of life and death.
“Millions of silently suffering children are the first hurt and the last helped when alcohol problems enter their homes.”
Achievement of the SDGs, including SDG 16.2 will not be possible if we do not summon our best efforts to alleviate the plight of children growing up in families with alcohol problems.
When their own homes are the most dangerous places for millions of children worldwide, society has an urgent obligation to provide safer and more enabling environments for the children, to help their parents and to prevent harm.
When the most vulnerable ones are left fending on their own, we must shift gears collectively.
In this spirit, we call on the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner to put the situation of children of alcoholics on their agenda. And we urge you to explore ways to make the Best Interest Principle, enshrined in Art. 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child work for children of alcoholics.
Using the collaborative synergies of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda2030, we urge the UN system to exercise leadership and seriously explore ways forward to address and improve the situation of millions of children around the world.
International Blue Cross
Hilary Henriques MBE