The lens of research and practice interest has, in recent years, expanded to include a consideration of the scope and consequences of children’s and young people’s exposure to gender based violence, resulting in a depth of empirical knowledge about its prevalence, and the impact this experience has on its youngest victims. Previously understood as passive by-standers or collateral damage in the exposure of gender based violence, more recent research has, through qualitative inquiry, greatly increased our knowledge about what it means to be a child or young person and live with violence in the home. In this symposium we argue that this knowledge is critical for all practitioners who work with children and young people in their everyday life, for researchers who develop and evaluate interventions and treatment methods, and for policymakers who make decisions that affect children and young people’s lives. In addition, we argue that children and young people can experience the possibility to make their voices heard through research as empowering. However, across Europe and internationally, children today are far from being included in research, policy development and decision making to the same extent as adults.
Positioned against the backdrop of the Istanbul Convention and located firmly within the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), this symposium, consisting of five interrelated papers, considers the challenges and opportunities to including children and young people in conversations and decisions that are made about their lives in the context of gender based violence. Reflected across all five papers is a rhetorical belief in and commitment to ascertaining and representing the voice of the child in matters that affect them, as articulated by the UNCRC. Similarly echoed with familiarity across all papers is the struggle adults experience when attempting to translate this rhetoric into meaningful practice reality, largely but not solely influenced by the desire to protect children by reducing their participation, with simultaneous questions raised about children’s capacity and maturity. These papers also demonstrate that when children and young people are engaged with in a meaningful and respectful manner, their competence to participate in the discussion about their experiences: their past as well as their future is confirmed. As professionals, policy makers and researchers, we cannot make meaningful progress on ending gender based violence in families and communities if we fail to engage with and respect the views and experiences of all key actors in that debate. This demands that we consider children and young people as active and sentient actors in the unfolding story of their own lives.