Child Abuse
By Maham Majeed

June 20th, 2009.
Child Abuse, a global issue that pervades every society, is usually ignored or not considered a priority. Why care about children getting abused when issues such as poverty, gender discrimination, hunger etc. are present. However, when one comes to think of it, the root problem behind various major issues faced by people all over the world could be ‘child abuse.’ What exactly is ‘child abuse?’ A lot of us don’t think about it but it’s actually a really vast issue, causing many other problems to sprout and spread. Child abuse can generally be defined as mistreatment: under which come physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. In many cases children are the victims of more than one type of abuse. The abusers can be parents or other family members, caretakers such as teachers and babysitters, acquaintances (including other children), and (in rare instances) strangers.
Child abuse can occur in any setting, but is fairly common in the following settings:
• The home and family
• Schools and educational settings
• Other institutional settings (orphanages, children in conflict with the law)
• The community and on the streets
• Work situations
Child abuse is part of the economic, cultural and societal norms that make up the child’s environment. It has its roots in issues such as the power relations associated with gender, exclusion, absence of a primary care giver and societal norms that are not protective or respectful of children. Other factors include drugs, availability of firearms, alcohol abuse, unemployment, crime, impunity and cultures of silence. However, it would be inaccurate to assume that child abuse arises in exclusively such situations. It can be manifested in households and settings that might seem ideal and “perfect.” Having a set of loving parents, no financial problems and a ‘normal’ lifestyle definitely does not ensure that the child will escape abuse. Although it shouldn’t be justified, most people are inclined to occasionally slap/spank a child for misbehaving. It’s almost inevitable. This usually harmless slap becomes an issue however, when more force starts being used; the slap starts leaving bruises; it becomes easier to slap the next time the child misbehaves; eventually a slap just does not suffice and the child seems ‘immune’, a punch/kick, or using a bat/stick/knife seems a more appropriate punishment; becoming convinced that what one did was the ‘right’ thing when the child stops misbehaving (in order to alleviate one’s guilt.) That’s when ‘child abuse’ starts to occur. And it evidently becomes easier and easier, the guilt (if there ever was any in the first place) starts fading.
Most parents do not intend to hurt their children, but abuse is defined by the effect on the child, not the motivation of the parents. Parents might not consider ‘abusing’ the child ‘abuse’, and might try to justify the act by claiming that it’s best for the child, and is like a ‘rite of passage,’ which every one goes through; that they were hit/slapped when younger, and they turned out fine. They might be under the delusion that what they are doing is ‘disciplining’ the child. So obviously it’s not their intentions that are always faulty, it’s their irrational beliefs and behavior. They might not be sadistic human beings bent on torturing their children, but the consequences of the abuse at their hands are more or less disastrous to the same extent as in cases where a child is ‘tortured.’
Most children are usually vulnerable to child abuse, and are unable to resist, and prevent it when it starts happening. It’s clear that although any child can become exposed to ‘child abuse,’ there are factors that may increase the probability of a child being subjected to abuse. Issues that increase a child’s vulnerability to violence may include:
• Violence in the media and other virtual settings, including child pornography
• Traditional harmful practices, including female genital mutilation and early/forced marriage
• Violence against children from ethnic minorities, immigrant or migrant communities
• Violence against children infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS
• Children as perpetrators of violence, including bullying
As mentioned earlier, child abuse is a vast, even generic term. When we go into depth and start specifying, we realize that it can be of different types, all inter-related but each having its own causes and symptoms, implications and consequences, system of diagnosis and treatment.
Physical abuse is probably the most common. The usual physical abuse scenario involves a parent who loses control and lashes out at a child. The trigger may be normal child behavior such as crying or dirtying a diaper. Unexplained or suspicious bruises or other marks on the skin are typical signs of physical abuse, as are burns. Skull and other bone fractures are often seen in young abused children, and in fact, head injuries are the leading cause of death from abuse. Children less than one year old are particularly vulnerable to injury from shaking, called Shaken Baby Syndrome. Physical abuse also causes a wide variety of behavioral changes in children.

Sexual abuse, another form of child abuse usually goes unacknowledged, and thus ignored. Factors (on part of the abuser) that may result in this form of abuse include alcohol or drug abuse, poor impulse control, and a belief that the sexual behaviors are acceptable and not harmful to the child. Genital or anal injuries or abnormalities, presence of STDs can be signs of sexual abuse, but often there is no physical evidence.

In case of emotional abuse, which can happen in many settings, possible symptoms include loss of self-esteem, sleep disturbances, headaches or stomachaches, school avoidance, and running away from home.

Neglect is also a form of abuse that is prevalent in most societies. Strong negative feelings toward the child usually results in neglect. Neglected children often do not receive adequate nourishment or emotional and mental stimulation. As a result, their physical, social, emotional, and mental development is hindered.

The World Health Organization report, prepared by Dr. Desmond Runyan of the University of North Carolina, concluded that an estimated 57,000 children die each year from physical abuse. He found more abuse among poor families, and higher levels in families with more children. The youngest children (age 4 and younger) were at greatest risk of serious injuries and death. Not surprisingly, boys suffered more physical abuse, while girls were more likely to be sexually abused. For both sexes, the chief victimizers were men, according to statistics.

An extremely important part of child abuse is its long-term consequences. The negative psychological impact of abuse on a child can be catastrophic, and the child can be impaired for life. If a child is abused as an infant, the abuse can result in severe, sometimes, irreversible conditions such as Shaken Baby Syndrome and impaired brain development. A child can have poor mental and social health, and social as well as cognitive difficulties, even as an adult. Abusive behavior, alcohol/drug abuse, juvenile delinquency and adult criminality can occur in child abuse victims. I think the worst part is when a child abuse victim starts believing that he/she deserves the abuse.
June 20th, 2009.
The World Health Organization estimates that 40 million children below the age of 15 suffer from abuse and neglect, and require health and social care. That is a massive number! Child abuse is an issue that clearly should be a top priority and it is imperative for us to recognize and fight it since it harms lives that can be saved, and is an issue that can be prevented.


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