Open letter to ECOSOC, UNDESA, UNICEF, WHO
By World Family Organization and IOGT International
Children of Alcoholics – Hidden Human Rights Crisis and Crucial SDGs Issue
Children of alcoholics are the forgotten victims of someone else’s alcohol use. All too often they do remain invisible and alone, neglected by their parents, overlooked by teachers, down prioritized and ignored by governments and authorities.
But data shows that children of alcoholics (CoAs) do constitute a significant group.
In Australia ca. 1 million children live in households with at least one adult being addicted.
In the United States, mothers convicted of child abuse are 3 times more likely to be alcoholics and fathers are 10 times more likely to be alcoholics. More than half of all confirmed abuse reports and 75% of child deaths involve the use of alcohol or other drugs by a parent.
In the European Union, there are at least 9 million children and young people growing up with alcohol-addicted parents.
Nacoa UK’s research estimates that there are 2.6 million children of school age living with parental alcohol problems in the UK alone.
The number of children living in homes that are ravaged by alcohol problems sky-rockets considering the countries around the world that are currently not even measuring the issue.
Children growing up with parents who struggle with alcohol problems are a Human Rights crisis of tremendous proportions.
CoAs are greatly exposed to harm:
- They are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder.
- They are three times more likely to commit suicide.
- They are almost four times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder themselves later on in life.
When we talk about children of alcoholics, we see seven aspects that make up the severity of the Human Rights crisis:
- The societal stigma, stereotypes and associated taboo that still are attached to alcoholism and to living with parents who have alcohol problems.
- Authorities’ inability to identify children of alcoholics, for example in schools.
- Governments on local and national level fail in providing effective and sufficient services to these vulnerable and marginalized children.
- Governments on local and national level fail in providing treatment for parents with alcohol problems, like programs that help the entire family.
- Society’s inability to prevent and reduce alcohol harm in general.
- In general, the lack of enabling, safe environments for children to grow up in.
- Government shortcomings in implementing the Best interest principle enshrined in Art. 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Also these aspects are interdependent. Their absence from the debate and from effective policy-making processes is hurting children of alcoholics. In fact the they keep fuelling a Human Rights crisis that sees CoAs deprived of the enjoyment of eight Human Rights, such as (for entire list, see Annex I):
- Protection of the family (Art. 16.3),
- The right to social security and realization of economic, social and cultural rights (Art. 22),
- The right to a standard of living conducive to health and well-being (Art. 25.1),
- Special care and assistance for motherhood and childhood (Art. 25.2).
Having on mind the sheer extent of the problem, the severity of the problem and the impact of the problem not just on the present but on the future, we hold that it is essential to understand that Sustainable Development and the achievement of the Agenda2030 is not possible without comprehensive efforts to help and support children of alcoholics and to ensure that their number decreases in the coming years.
The fact that hundreds of millions of children grow up exposed to neglect and abuse due to their parents’ alcohol problems is a Child Rights issue, a public health issue, a social development issue, a poverty eradication and sustainable development issue.
In short, this is a complex and an urgent issue. Sometimes, especially in low- and middle-income countries it is a matter of life and death.
In this spirit, we call on the UN system, on ECOSOC, on WHO, on UNDP, UNDESA and on UNICEF to put the situation of children of alcoholics on their agenda and to seriously explore ways forward to address and improve the situation of millions of children around the world.