When Children Call For Accountability

Envisioning a just world requires the idea to liberate communities and individuals from cycles of violence. It is, therefore, crucial that in order to transform our society, a clear vision imagining the future we want for the generations to come is needed whilst honestly interrogating the current conditions that do not align with that vision. The path to meaningful change is possible when actions and policies are in place that work to examine and close the unequal gaps between the future we wish for and the realities we reside in.

 

However, in order to bridge that gap, it must be emphasised that one of the most incredibly overlooked demographics are children. What is the harm perpetuated against them, other than physical and sexual violence? What is the psychological impact of such violence, and how does it follow them into their adulthood?

 

“.. When adults systematically don’t listen to you or allow you to participate in meaningful decisions, your sense of self-worth deteriorates. When they grade you continually on something like your academic performance, your concept of your own value can hinge on that opinion, too. If, on top of this, they belittle, randomly punish, or molest you, your self-esteem can plummet, your level of delinquency might soar…you might feel alienated or pushed toward doing whatever you need to survive.” — Allan Creighton and Paul Kivel (Helping Teens Stop violence, Build Community and Stand for Justice)


The persistent pattern of children and youth being denied the right to exercise self-determination is called adultism. What it means is that it is the systemic and institutionalised manners in which young people are disallowed from making their own choices, and instead, adults decide most features about young peoples’ lives, such as how they dress, or how they behave or socialise. These choices are further restricted by the impacts of racism, sexism, class inequality, casteism and ableism. 

This is a form of individual and systemic dehumanisation perpetuated against children. Their humanity is predicated on the temperament of the adults around them, who children rely on for survival and love. This power dynamic, however, allows adults to abuse children, and in a society that refuses to believe that children are autonomous beings, most turn a blind eye to it so as to not claim responsibility.

 

However, what really needs to be addressed is the fact that adults, who claim to be responsible for children, almost never seem to actually claim responsibility for children, especially if and when children display flaws. And what are “flaws” really, as that too can be arbitrarily determined. 

 

What does society owe children? Care, to be nurtured, love and guidance. But adults also believe that they do not owe apologies to children. Adults believe themselves to be the role models of children, the arbiters of right and wrong. Yet somehow, there is a culture that continues to terrorise children on the daily and yet they also hold the belief that they do not owe children an acknowledgement or an apology. Furthermore, there is a certain unspoken belief amongst adults that children cannot hold adults accountable. 

 

It is important for adults to understand that they need to allow children to hold them accountable if and when they adults have wronged them. Children have boundaries that are often ignored, and when children cannot hold adults accountable, it can be detrimental for their self-worth and can even lead them to doubt their power in asserting their rights to speaking up and out against those who harm them. 

 

  • Will you share with me a time when you were trying to express your thoughts and feelings and I did not listen?
  • Are there things that I do that make hurt your feelings? 
  • Did I ever do something that was unfair to you?

 

Centering the feelings of children and the opinions of children is helpful as it not only allows them to express themselves, but they can they hold adults, parents, or guardians accountable for behaviour that is harmful. This also reduces the possibilities for further violence being perpetuated against, and creates an environment and a community of accountability, where adults can watch out for other adults who may, intentionally or not, be harming children in the process. Psychological violence is also a form of violence, and can silence a child into not speaking out, or seeking reparations for the harm caused against. Therefore, it is crucial that we allow children opportunities and arenas to hold adults, guardians and parents accountable.

 

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