In Global Survey, Children Ask Adults to Love Them More

When world leaders agreed to include protecting children against violence in the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals earlier this fall, much of the attention focused on broad, systemic risks to children. Ending the exploitation of children through sex trafficking -- a horrific, illicit enterprise that involves as many as two million young girls -- must be an urgent global priority. So, too, should freeing young children from the bonds of forced labor, jobs that are hazardous and consume the precious and fleeting time when school-age kids should be pursuing their educations. And we must confront the illegal conscription into military-style groups of hundreds of thousands of children, some as young as 10 years old, who are compelled to participate in armed conflicts.

Addressing these issues will require a concerted commitment among governments around the world. But even with such strong collective action, the prevalent risks to children exist in many other, often subtle ways. While we tend to focus on large-scale dangers to children, too many of them are simply waking to fear in their own households, terrified of what kind of abuse the day ahead will bring.

The fact is that many kids don't believe children are safe at home, the place where they should feel most secure and loved. It's a sobering insight, and the extent of their fear is one of the findings of our sixth annual survey of children worldwide. This year's Small Voices, Big Dreams survey -- based on one-on-one interviews with more than 6,000 children ages 10 to 12 in 44 countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas -- found that almost half of all children in developing nations -- an alarming 46 percent -- think kids are unsafe under their own roofs. Almost as many (41%) cite children as not being safe at school, and one in two (55%) think children are at risk walking alone. (Children could select more than one answer.)

The survey gives voice to the concerns of children who are too often ignored, and they speak with a clarity and resonance that compels us to take notice. In the small African nation of Togo, only 6 percent of the children surveyed say that children are safe at home. Here in the United States, children have other concerns: In a parallel survey of American kids, we found that 44 percent don't think their peers are safe on the Internet.

We pointedly asked the young survey participants why they thought adults mistreated children. A significant number (40%) say it is simply because adults have the power to do so, while almost as many blame children themselves, saying it is either because the children are at fault (35%) or as a means of punishment (32%). Children often give us a clearer perspective than we might assume or care to acknowledge. In Australia, more than two-thirds of the children surveyed (70%) say that adults harm children because they are on drugs or drunk. Almost as many French children (60%) conclude that abuse is cyclical, that it is the result of their parents having been mistreated themselves as children.

How could adults, particularly parents and caregivers, do a better job of protecting children? It would be difficult to disagree with the one in five children (18%) who say that adults should listen to what children have to say. But perhaps the most telling response came from the Asian nation of Timor-Leste. Almost two in three children there (64%) say that adults should "love children more."

That answer, in all its simplicity and eloquence, is the essential truth behind what children deserve from adults at every level - from national leaders, community elders, teachers and parents. We owe children lives free from fear and violence, and while it is vital that we tackle the epic global challenges that threaten children's safety and well-being, we must be ever mindful of the obligation that we have to see that children's own environments -- their homes and schools and communities - are safe havens that give them the freedom to grow and simply be children.

Our annual Small Voices, Big Dreams survey reminds us that the greatest insights into our work come from the wisdom of those we seek to serve. "Love children more." That's a message worth spreading.