Role of health citizenship in improving health outcomes for childhood trauma and violence

9th April 2024

Authors: Srishti Sharma, PhD student, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. Secretary & Treasurer, PHA (AUT Branch)

Srishti Sharma photo

The World Health Organization describes Childhood abuse as "the abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age and includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, and neglect which results in harm".

During childhood, any exposure to abuse or maltreatment acts as a serious stressor that leads to cognitive impairments and deficits. Traumatic experiences from childhood have detrimental effects on the cognitive abilities of brain such as speech and lingual abilities, short-term memory loss, supervisory functioning, coordination abilities, dysfunctional episodic verbal memory, and a disfigured ability in remembering and learning capabilities [1].

International provisions such as The Convention of Rights of the Child and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development guarantees that violence among children, in any form shall be eradicated and that every child has the right to live a life that is reflective of safety, freedom, and highest attainable level of physical, mental, and emotional health [2]. However, despite the allegiance and obligations of the world charters and organisations, more than a billion children are subjected to violence and abuse every year [3].

These provisions, although in effect, require more effectiveness in terms of rehabilitation programmes and interventions that are best suited for vulnerable populations such as children living with violence, and trauma. The question here arises about the appropriate strategies and tools that can decipher the relevance, appropriateness, and robustness in the development of such programmes and interventions. Which section of the society, the healthcare system, and policy makers are best suited in the research and development of such programmes?

The answer lies within the emerging concept of health citizenship, which focuses on the knowledge of health that encapsulates the experiences of the affected, gives their voices a meaning, and aims to translate it into actionable items that are linked to the design and development of programmes, policies, and interventions relevant for children experiencing violence, abuse, and trauma.

Health citizenship within the context of child violence and abuse, guarantees empowered communities that have the right knowledge and tools to advocate for programmes and policies that are preventative in nature as well as supportive for the survivors. The global climate of this century is war driven, wherein children are the most impacted, and are the vulnerable victims of war crimes experiencing life-altering physical, mental, and emotional trauma. Health citizenship is a powerful approach that is rights-based and can eventually raise awareness, and advocate for the rights of the children.

It is important that the inter-connectedness of trauma, violence, memory, and mental health be addressed with an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach of health citizenship. Socio-emotional learning interventions and community rehabilitation programmes provide guidance to mental health professionals to a large extent, however, evidence-based information to develop relevant resilience and coping strategies, lies in the voices of the children and those who work closely with them.

Comprehensive actions including concepts of health citizenship should be emphasised wherein inter-sectoral approaches including multi-stakeholders such as healthcare professionals, mental health specialists, policy makers, and researchers aim to fuel the advancement of feasible and adaptable interventions in different socio-economic and cultural settings.


(1) Dodaj, A., Krajina, M., Sesar, K. and Šimić, N. (2017). The effects of maltreatment in childhood on working memory capacity in adulthood. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 13(4), pp.618–632.

(2) Hidden scars: how violence harms the mental health of children. (2020). [online] UN Violence against Children. New York: Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.

(3) Violence against children (2022) World Health Organization. (Accessed: 12 March 2024).

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