To: H.E. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Dear Honorable Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein,
We hope that our joint letter finds you well.
It is our privilege to address you today by way of this letter, on the occasion of International Children of Alcoholics Week.
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 homes with at least one addicted adult.
- 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.
- 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 various types of 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 usedisorder themselves later on in life.
- In Low- and Middle-Income Countries, children of alcoholics often end up on the streets, where they are often exposed to grave dangers such as violence and crime, human trafficking, and substance abuse.
When we talk about children of alcoholics, we face 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 and thrive in.
- Government shortcomings in implementing the Best interest principle enshrined in Art. 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Also these aspects are interdependent. Their absence from the debate and from effective policy-making processes is hurting children of alcoholics.
In fact, they keep fuelling a Human Rights crisis that sees CoAs deprived of the enjoyment of eight Human Rights, such as (for detailed 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 are 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 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.
For further reading:
Joint Open Letter to OHCRH
“Children of Alcoholics – Hidden Human Rights Crisis”