Defending Children's Rights Means Defending Their Mothers, Too

An Indian woman walks with her child ahead of Mother's Day, in Allahabad, India, Sunday, May 6, 2012. Mother's Day will be ce
An Indian woman walks with her child ahead of Mother's Day, in Allahabad, India, Sunday, May 6, 2012. Mother's Day will be celebrated on May 13. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Each year, we celebrate Child Rights Day to honor the millions of children who are the heart and soul of India -- and of India's future. It is a day of fun, games and sweets, but it is also an important opportunity to reflect on the health, safety and essential human rights of India's next generation: the dreamers, innovators and leaders of tomorrow. This work must begin at home.

In 2006 UNICEF estimated that as many as 69 million children in India were exposed to violence against their mothers -- even higher than the number who did not have access to improved drinking water. And just like children who grow up without clean water or nutritious food, children who grow up in violent homes face lifelong consequences. For example, the World Health Organization has documented the link between violence during pregnancy and low birth weight and impaired brain development. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have shown connections between violence against Indian women and malnutrition and anemia in their children.

So if we are serious about the defending the rights of India's youngest citizens, we must start by empowering women. We have to bring domestic violence to a halt.

Ensuring that children grow up in safe, violence-free homes and families is one of the most important steps we can take to help them thrive. A growing body of research is affirming the positive relationship between women's rights and children's rights and the fact that healthy mothers create healthy homes for healthy children. The younger the child, the more this matters.

Women in violence-free relationships are also likely to place a higher priority on education, which can help to reduce other forms of future violence against women and girls -- from early marriage to sex-selective elimination to genital mutilation. And because children model their own behavior on the behavior of the adults in their lives, stopping violence against women today is one of the best ways to make sure that young boys do not use violence against their female partners when they grow up.

This is not easy work. The problem is enormous. But initiatives around the world are proving that change is possible -- and can even be swift, if we act now. What's important is to start.

Breakthrough's Bell Bajao campaign, which has reached more than 130 million people in India, has taken dramatic and effective steps by calling on men and boys, and women and girls, to stand up against violence against women. Using innovative multimedia and deeply transformative community education, Breakthrough has challenged norms and created awareness and action around domestic violence, early marriage and related forms of violence. Bell Bajao has achieved an 11.5-percent increase in awareness about India's Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act and a 15-percent increase in requests for services for women. It has also created dramatic changes in attitudes and actions: an increased understanding of stopping violence as a shared responsibility, and more people across India acting to stop it themselves.

Most importantly, Bell Bajao has helped interrupt and prevent tens of thousands of violent acts against women and their children.

The Bernard Van Leer Foundation and Breakthrough are proud to partner in an effort to take Bell Bajao global. But today, on Child Rights Day in India -- the place where Bell Bajao was born -- it is essential to remember that if we want our children to be healthy and safe, we need to stop violence against women.

Mallika Dutt is founder and CEO of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization. Michael Feigelson is program director at the Bernard van Leer Foundation.