CHILD ABUSE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD: THE NEED FOR EARLY IDENTIFICATION AND POTENTIAL FUTURE IMPACT ON THE CHILD
RESEARCH QUESTION-ARE THERE ANY PATTERNS OF CHILD ABUSE?
Child Rights gained momentum in the 20th century. Children were considered “young adults” until then and there was a lack of special laws to protect their vulnerability. Parents and caregivers often exploited children’s gullibility. Child abuse occurs when parents or caregivers abuse the child physically, emotionally, sexually and neglects to give the child proper care. The abuse can have negative impacts and can shun the emotional and physical growth of the children. Today, child abuse is a global issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines child abuse and child maltreatment as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child's health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power”. Nearly 3 in 4 children suffer physical violence at the hands of their parents or caregivers.
TYPES AND SYMPTOMS OF CHILD ABUSE
According to WHO, child abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual and neglect. It is important to identify the symptoms of such abuse to provide utmost care to the victims. Child abuse can be a single episode or several episodes taking place over time.
CAUSES AND IMPACT OF CHILD ABUSE
The reasons that cause child abuse are often complex. Usually, parents and caregivers are overwhelmed and crumble at the challenges of parenthood. Some other reasons could be:
NEED FOR EARLY IDENTIFICATION AND APPROPRIATE ACTION
Child abuse must be reported to the official authorities mandatorily. Identification of child abuse is a difficult task. Teachers and other elders must talk to the child if they notice any peculiarity in their behaviour. It is important to have such conversations with children because more often than not, children are unaware that they are being abused. It is necessary to teach children the appropriate terms of body parts as it can protect them and they will be able to share what exactly happened with them. Toys can be used as an aid to help the child speak up. Physical exams, lab tests, X- rays etc., can help in diagnosing and taking appropriate action.
Once, it is identified that the child has been abused, he/she should be provided with a safe environment away from the abuser. The child must be provided with medical attention and follow-up care to ensure the child’s well-being. Alternatively, consulting a therapist is highly recommended. Therapy can help the child to learn to trust again and boost one’s confidence. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy can help the child deal with the traumatic experiences and child-parent psychotherapy can improve the child-parent relationship.
Child abuse of boys, often go unnoticed and their behaviour changes are mistaken for age-related changes. It becomes even more difficult to identify abuse in boys because of stereotypes about men and masculinity. In 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, supported by United Nations Children’s Fund, conducted a study to understand the magnitude of child abuse in India, they found that 53.22% children faced one or more forms of sexual abuse and among them; the number of boys abused was 52.94%. What most are unaware of is that boys and girls become victims nearly at the same rate (48.5% and 51.2% respectively). Another research co-led by Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) professor Kathryn Whetten shows that orphaned boys are as vulnerable to abuse as girls. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child aged 0-17 years.
Children who experience child abuse are more likely to be arrested as juveniles and perpetrate violence therefore it is necessary to break this cycle of violence.
CHILD ABUSE IN INDIA
India has one of the largest child population in the world. Regardless of the laws and policies implemented to curb child abuse, the condition is yet to become better in the country. The number of child sexual abuse cases increases every year in the country. “As many as 109 children were sexually abused every day in India in 2018, according to the data by the National Crime Record Bureau, which showed a 22 per cent jump in such cases from the previous year.”
Laws and Policies to curb Child Abuse in India
India’s young population grapples with the lack of access to education, basic resources and healthcare. This makes them susceptible to adverse childhood experiences. The vision of the Constitution of India is to nurture and provide necessities to children. The State must look after their well-being.
In India, most of the child abuse cases go unreported as it happens inside the four corners of one’s home. The focus has been more on the public sphere than the private sphere.
RESEARCH QUESTION-ARE THERE ANY PATTERNS OF CHILD ABUSE?
If we closely inspect several child abuse cases, we can find a pattern in most of these cases. For instance, let us take the case of the death of Sherin Mathews. Sherin Susan Mathew was an Indian-American toddler whose body was found dead in a culvert in Texas and her adoptive father admitted to disposing of the body. Sherin was initially reported missing in October 2017 after her adopted father claimed he had forced her to stand outside alone at 3:00 A.M. as a punishment for not drinking milk. He later admitted to having “physically assisted” her in drinking her milk and got choked. According to Sherin’s paediatrician, Sherin had multiple broken bones. This incident led to revising of the adoption process in India since Sherin was adopted from Bihar. Reports suggested that the adoptive parents had a careless and uncaring attitude. Parents should employ healthy mechanisms to reprimand a child. The multiple broken bones of Sherin indicate physical abuse by her parents.
WAYS TO PREVENT CHILD ABUSE
If you suspect that a child is undergoing child abuse, it is necessary to report it to the police. Child Abuse is a criminal offence. Early identification and reporting can spare the child from further abuse.
See Queensland Government, “What is Child Abuse?”, available at https://www.qld.gov.au/community/getting-support-health-social-issue/support-victims-abuse/child-abuse/what-is-child-abuse/child-abuse-types
See Mayo Clinic, “Child Abuse”, available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/child-abuse/symptoms-causes/syc-20370864
See Rainn, “Sexual Assault of Men and Boys”, available at https://www.rainn.org/articles/sexual-assault-men-and-boys
See Vikas Choudhry, “Child Sexual Abuse in India: A Systematic Overview”, available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6177170/
See Amisha U. Pathak, “Child Abuse in India- An Analysis”, available at http://www.indiathink.org/Child-Abuse-in-India-An-Analysis-by-Amisha-u-Pathak.pdf
See Duke Global Health Institute, “Study Finds Orphaned Boys Are As Vulnerable to Abuse as Girls”, available at https://globalhealth.duke.edu/news/study-finds-orphaned-boys-are-vulnerable-abuse-girls
See Wikipedia, “Death of Sherin Mathews”, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Sherin_Mathews
See The Hindu, “Sherin Mathews case: Father gets life sentence”, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/texas-man-gets-life-sentence-in-3-year-old-daughters-death/article28162860.ece
All research papers have been written by college-going interns at The Ashoka Tree