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Preventing Violence, Promoting Peace

A Policy Toolkit for Preventing Interpersonal, Collective and Extremist Violence

The Commonwealth Charter includes the principle that international peace and security, sustainable economic growth and development, and the rule of law are essential to improving the lives of all people in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth adopted a Peace Building Commonwealth as its theme for 2017. To support this theme, Preventing Violence, Promoting Peace – A policy tool kit for addressing interpersonal, collective and extremist violence brings together evidence on the prevention of all types of violence including interpersonal violence (child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, elder abuse and youth violence), collective violence (including war and gang violence) and violent extremism. It focuses largely on how to prevent individuals and groups from developing violent behaviours rather than the costly process of dealing with violence and its consequences. This summary of the full report includes key findings and references to relevant sections in the main document.

Globally, violence is estimated to cost 13.3 per cent of global productivity equivalent to US$13.6 trillion per year. This percentage of the combined productivity of the Commonwealth would represent around US$1.4 trillion per year. As well as the costs of violence related to injury and long-term disability, those exposed to violence in early life have more difficulties engaging in education and experience reduced employment and economic activity. They are more vulnerable to poor mental health, and alcohol and drug abuse, and are at greater risk of developing physical health problems at younger ages, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Consequently, violence increases pressures on health, social and judicial systems, creating sometimes unmanageable demands on scarce resources.

Like many other public health problems, violence is infectious. Children exposed to violence in the home are more likely to grow up to be perpetrators or victims of violence themselvesc. This pernicious cycle can result in families and communities suffering violence for generations. However, it is not the only cycle that must be broken for violence to be eradicated. Poverty and inequalities contribute to marginalisation, desperation and feelings of injustice, which increase risks of violence. In turn, such violence results in poorer investment, education and economic development, and further exacerbation of poverty and inequality. Violence is a disincentive for investment in nations and regions, a reason why skilled labour leaves or cannot be recruited, and a corrosive force that erodes community and family cohesion. Equally, in many parts of the world, war and organised conflict drive the movement of people and create unstable environments, weak institutional structures, traumatised individuals and poor rule of law. Such factors increase risks of long periods of violence and abuse emerging in the aftermath of conflict. Individuals born into migrant and minority populations can feel part of neither the culture of previous generations nor that of the broader local population. Isolation and identity issues leave individuals vulnerable to radicalisation and violent extremism (RVE). Violent extremism can devastate whole economies and communities, creating anger, fear and suspicion for years after the act, and consequently such acts create further isolation of minority populations.

This document summarises evidence on breaking these cycles of violence. Violence is preventable and recent decades have generated substantive

evidence describing both the risk factors that push people into violent life courses and a range of policies, programmes and practices that prevent such violence from developing. Further, the pervasive damage from violence means that the savings from investing in evidence-based violence prevention are substantive. Reduced costs to those dealing with the overt and hidden impacts of violence on health, criminal justice, education and economic systems mean evidence-based programmes can return multiple dollars in savings for every one invested. While a range of detailed documents already address interpersonal violence, collective violence or violent extremism individually, few have examined the three together to explore commonalities in risks and potential preventative solutions. This document identifies strong links between causes of different types of violence at the macro socio-economic level (e.g. poverty and inequalities) that can interact with experiences in homes, schools and other institutional settings to create breeding grounds for violence. It also exposes emerging challenges common to all forms of violence, including new technologies that join communities globally but also disseminate propaganda, help organise acts of terror and create new opportunities for interpersonal violence (e.g. online bullying, sexual exploitation).

The public health approach, adopted here, focuses on understanding factors that increase risk of, or resilience (resistance) to, involvement in violence and identifies evidence-based interventions that reduce risk while increasing resilience. This approach is well established for interpersonal violence although less so for collective and extremist violence. Risk, resilience and effective interventions are considered at the level of the individual (biological factors and personal history), relationships (the nature and quality of their interactions with others), communities (settings in which these relationships occur) and societies (where laws and cultural norms often operate). Increasingly, however, individuals, communities and nations across the world have become interconnected and interdependentf. Consequently, a global level is used here to examine issues affecting violence such as migration, international conflict, climate and trade. The nations of the Commonwealth are well placed to tackle violence at all levels from individual to global.

Finally, violence is addressed here as a life course issue. Childhood experiences of violence affect the behavioural, health, economic and other social outcomes of adults. Transitions between life stages, such as adolescence, are also challenges for violence prevention when identity development and the management of interpersonal relationships can increase or inhibit tendencies for violence. Positive relationships are a source of resilience, diverting vulnerable individuals from an otherwise violent life course. However exploitative relationships can see the same vulnerable individuals directed towards involvement in violence.