Spotlight: ISS proposes solutions to violence at the United Nations


Senior ISS researcher Dr Chandre Gould was at the United Nations (UN) last week to highlight her work on violence prevention at a high-level meeting hosted by Her Majesty Queen Sylvia of Sweden, the Swedish Mission to the UN, the World Childhood Foundation and Know Violence in Childhood.

Gould has spent nearly 30 years trying to understand the reasons for endemic violence in South Africa, including an early career as a violence monitor during the country’s transition from apartheid to democracy. In 2010 she spent months in prison interviewing repeat violent offenders jailed for rape, murder and armed robbery. She wanted to understand their life stories and detect the roots of their violent behavior. The findings were published in Gould’s ISS monograph Beaten Bad.

In New York, Gould delivered a message of cautious hope to international researchers, diplomats, non-governmental organisations and senior child safety officials seeking collective action and innovative solutions to help meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Adopted in 2015, the SDGs commit world leaders to giving children access to health and education, and freedom from violence, abuse and exploitation.

The ISS and its partners now want to expand evidence-based violence prevention programmes

Gould explained how South Africa’s violent past reverberates across society today. The men she met in prison came from all backgrounds and had unique life stories, but they had in common an absence of supportive and loving relationships in childhood. All had experienced repeated trauma that was never resolved. Many believed what their caregivers had told them – that they were no good and never would amount to anything. They internalised these feelings of inferiority, and the injustice of their circumstance justified their actions.

Gould today is one of the founders of an organisation in her own small community, where she had noticed young men getting involved in violence. She had spotted a familiar pattern of struggling parents not able to give their children the care and attention they needed, and started by giving children a safe place to get help with their homework.

But many of them went home to families where the work of building children’s self-esteem was undermined by domestic violence and parents who hit and insulted them.

Working closely with the University of Cape Town, Gould and her colleagues set out to change a whole community’s approach to parenting through evidence-based programmes targeting pregnant mothers, parents of teenagers, fathers, foster parents and grandparents.  

The results are encouraging. ‘My community today is very different. There is no gang violence, parents now attend school meetings, and a father on our parenting programme has a good relationship with his daughter for the first time,’ Gould told her audience at the UN in New York.

But she acknowledged that changing one community won’t change the extremely high levels of violence in South Africa.

The ISS and partners in government and civil society now want to expand evidence-based violence prevention programmes, and are building a community of policy makers and practitioners who are passionate about and committed to preventing violence against children.

For more information contact:

Chandré Gould, ISS:, +27 83 3054915