Understanding Child Abuse

Understanding Child Abuse

There will be hardly any bigger threat than the insecurity of future generations. The menace of child abuse has engulfed the country and has left the parents severely distraught. Child abuse is still a less understood but deeply permeated issue in our country.

Understanding child abuse will be essential to chalk out a strategy to cope with the scourge. The World Health Organization defines child abuse as ‘under the age of 18, all kinds of emotional and physical maltreatment, neglect, sexual abuse, and exploitation that damage the Child’s health, development and dignity.’ There are various types of child abuse as mentioned in the definition.

First is physical abuse, which includes corporal punishment, smashing, throwing, hitting, and so on. Sometimes for maintaining discipline parents and teachers adopt the path of physical harm. Physical abuse is a way to vent anger on children and instill fear in their hearts. This is common in Pakistan, whether the place is a madrassah, the school, or the home. The victim of physical abuse cannot enjoy a natural growth as he exerts more of his energy to dodge the anger of parents or teachers.

A study “Prevalence of Child Abuse among the University Students: A Retrospective Cross-Sectional Study in University of the Punjab” was conducted by Syed Saleem Abbas and Tahira Jabeen. Standardized tool ICAST-R of ISPCAN (International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and neglect) was applied to know about the prevalence of child abuse. There were 274 students in the four-year BS programme who took part in this research.  The study shows that "Physical abuse stands at the top with 57 percent of prevalence, in which male victims (68 percent) were higher than female victims (46 percent)."

The second is emotional abuse, which indicates the psychological manhandling that hinders the proper mental and social development of children. There are different ways of emotional abuse such as continuously humiliating a child, browbeating or intimidating him, stark criticism and less sympathy, distorting his name or use of derogatory words, and keeping the child away from other children. According to the above-mentioned research, emotional abuse is the second most prevalent form of abuse. Its prevalence is 53 percent in which female victims (54 percent) are more than male victims (53 percent).

The third is sexual abuse; it is about compelling a child into sexual intercourse, showing pornographic content to children, and exposing a child to the sexual parts of the body. Sexual abuse is getting momentum day by day in our country. Pakistani people have been more used to other forms of abuse than sexual abuse. Neglect, emotional and physical abuse has become rife.

Sexual abuse is the tormenting form of abuse in which a child faces a physical, psychological, and social predicament. An organization, Sahil, portrays a very grim picture of children’s security. According to the data collected from the “Annual Cruel Numbers” of the Sahil organization, incidents akin to child sexual abuse have risen since 2010. Furthermore, the pertinent organization shows that the number of cases of child sexual abuse was 2,252 in 2010, and in 2016 the cases rose to 4,139. Similarly, a leading newspaper mentions another report of Sahil, according to which 2,960 children went through sexual abuse in 2020.

Fourth is neglect; it includes the failure of guardians, parents, or caretakers to fulfill the physical and psychological needs of children. Neglect has a far-reaching impact on children’s mental development. There are several forms of neglect such as physical, medical, emotional, and educational neglect. The above-mentioned study in the University of Punjab shows that neglect enjoys 40 percent prevalence.

We have to take several important steps to curb all forms of child abuse. People of Pakistan hardly take help from a psychologist in child abuse cases due to the stigma attached. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can be useful to recover a victim’s dignity.

The question arises, what are the causes of Child Abuse?

Some of the less-explored causes are mentioned in a research paper “An in-depth insight into child abuse and its impact on the personality of victims” written by Shamim Soomro, Zareen Abbas, and Farah Lalani. According to them, the first reason is ‘Intergenerational transmission of aggression and violent behaviour’.

They maintain that often children inherit violent and aggressive tendencies from their parents. Research shows that ’30 percent of the children who witnessed abuse in childhood were more likely to become abusive parents’. Hence, the abusive environment in which a child grows up shapes his abusive behaviour.

The second reason is ‘Social and Communal Stress’. Social stress can be a leading cause behind child abuse cases. Various issues like unemployment, poverty, the demise of family members, and the presence of a crippled person in a family may play a role in child abuse. Usually, the use of alcohol by the father creates an emotional, psychological, and mental imbalance in children.

The third reason is ‘Social Isolation. In many cases, abusers appear to be socially secluded. Little contact with the outside world accelerates aggressive behavior and triggers social pressure. Furthermore, the dearth of social understanding makes abusers unable to align with societal norms and ethics. Social contacts are a natural source of transformation and learning. Those who lack social networks remain stagnant and strict towards family members.

The fourth reason is ‘Family Structure’. Family structure is an important factor in facilitating child abuse. Two kinds of families are more likely to see child abuse. First is a one-parent family, in which one parent takes responsibility for a children’s upbringing and for managing bread and butter. The second is a family in which the relationship between the husband and wife remains poor. Misunderstanding and misperceptions between the both marred the spousal life and it directly affects children.

The fifth reason is ‘unintended pregnancies’. Those children who are born as a result of rape or forced sexual intercourse tend to go through perpetual mistreatment. In most cases, such children are not accepted by their parents wholeheartedly.

The sixth reason is the ‘Cinderella Effect’. A study was conducted in the USA to learn about the murders of children. The result of this study showed that  ‘children are 100 times more likely to be murdered by their stepparents than biological parents. The observation that stepchildren are more vulnerable to be abused and murdered is called the ‘Cinderella effect’. This term got this name from the character Cinderella of a fairy tale story. While explaining this term evolutionary psychologists maintain that parents show discriminatory behavior by loving or caring for their offspring against stepchildren.

We have to take several important steps to curb all forms of child abuse. People of Pakistan hardly take help from a psychologist in child abuse cases due to the stigma attached. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can be useful to recover a victim’s dignity. Secondly, parent-child therapies are also effective to cope with neglect and emotional abuse. Thirdly, we need extensive public awareness about the gravity of the issue. Media campaigns are direly needed to sensitize parents about the emotional, psychological, and mental health of the child.

Fourthly, the school administrations must educate children about their security. There should be a parents-teachers meeting at the end of every month. In which, they will be guided about establishing friendly relations with children. Similarly, parents’ counseling centres can play a significant role to make them cognizant of the child’s mental health. Sixthly, in many cases, the rampancy of a crime indicates a poor system of accountability. From capturing culprits to ensuring punishments, a scrupulous implementation of rule of law is required.

Wali Ejaz Nekokara