When home is the most dangerous place – millions of children are growing up in families with alcohol problems, but society is largely failing them

Civil society organization, including IOGT International along with the International Blue Cross, NACOA UK and NACoA-USA, have today – on the occasion of CoA Week – issued a Joint Open Letter, addressing leaders in the UN system.

CoA Week is an annual event, taking place in the week around February 14 (Valentine’s Day) to raise awareness of the situation of children growing up in families with alcohol problems. CoA week is celebrated internationally, seeking to galvanize action to help and support children and their families from homes with parental alcohol problems.

In their joint open letter, the civil society organizations address the President of the United Nations General Assembly, the High-Commissioner for Human Rights, the Director of UNICEF and the Director General of the World Health Organization.

Making the invisible visible

They call on leaders to make the invisible visible and explain the extent and proportions of the problem.

For too long, children from homes with parental alcohol problems have remained invisible, left on their own. As their parents cannot provide shelter and often basic support, also society is failing to protect and promote the rights of these children. Without hyperbole, all available evidence shows that the problem is massive:

  • 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 50% 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 growing up with alcohol-addicted parents.In Australia ca. 1 million children live in households with at least one adult being addicted.
  • 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.

Seen with the eyes of our children, the world we live in has an alcohol problem,” says Kristina Sperkova, President of IOGT International.

Children growing up in families with alcohol problems are often exposed to physical, and/ or emotional violence and neglect, putting them at great risk:

  1. They are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder.
  2. They are three times more likely to commit suicide.
  3. They are almost four times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder themselves later on in life.

When home is the most dangerous place, society needs to step in and provide shelter and enabling environments that allow children to be children.

But so far, society has largely left these children to fend on their own.

Millions of silently suffering children are the first hurt and the last helped when alcohol problems enter their homes,” says Sis Wenger, CEO/ President of NACoA-USA.

The problem of children growing up in families with alcohol problems is exacerbated by

  • Authorities’ inability to identify children and offer support, for example in schools.
  • Local and national governments’ failure to provide effective structural prevention programmes and sufficient services to affected children.
  • Governments’ failure to provide treatment services for parents with alcohol problems, especially programs that help the entire family.
  • The lack of enabling and safe environments for children, if home is no place to go to.
  • Governments’ shortcomings in implementing the Best interest principle enshrined in Art. 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Children from homes with parental alcohol problems, violence and SDGs

These five aspects are interdependent and need to be integrated into efforts to end all forms of violence against children.

Achievement of the SDGs, including SDG 16.2 will not be possible if we do not summon our best efforts to alleviate the plight of children growing up in families with alcohol problems.

The civil society organizations call on leaders:

When their own homes are the most dangerous places for millions of children worldwide, society has an urgent obligation to provide safer and more enabling environments for the children, to help their parents and to prevent harm.

When the most vulnerable ones are left fending on their own, we must shift gears collectively.

In this spirit, we call on the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner to put the situation of children of alcoholics on their agenda. And we urge you to explore ways to make the Best Interest Principle, enshrined in Art. 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child work for children of alcoholics.

Using the collaborative synergies of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda2030, we urge the UN system to exercise leadership and seriously explore ways forward to address and improve the situation of millions of children around the world.”