Infants and toddlers are the age group most vulnerable to child abuse and neglect, and the largest group of children entering foster care.
Child abuse is doing something or failing to do something that results in harm to a child or puts a child at risk of harm. Child abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional. Neglect, or not providing for a child’s needs, is also a form of abuse.
However, in India, as in many other countries, there has been no understanding of the extent, magnitude and trends of the problem. The growing complexities of life and the dramatic changes brought about by socio-economic transitions in India have played a major role in increasing the vulnerability of children to various and newer forms of abuse. According to World Health Organization, “Child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, 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.’’
Child abuse has serious physical and psychological consequences which adversely affect the health and overall well-being of a child. Most abused children suffer greater emotional than physical damage. An abused child may become depressed. He or she may withdraw, think of suicide or become violent. An older child may use drugs or alcohol, try to run away or abuse others. There are many interacting causes of child abuse and neglect. Characteristics or circumstances of the abuser, the child, and the family may all contribute. In many cases the abuser himself/herself was abused as a child. Substance abuse has been identified as a key factor in a growing number of cases. In some cases abusers do not have the education and skills needed to raise a child, thus increasing the likelihood of abuse, and providing inadequate parental role models for future generations.
Children who are low birth weight, ill, disabled, or otherwise perceived as different are more likely to be the targets of abuse. In the family, marital discord, domestic violence, unemployment, poverty, and social isolation are all factors that can precipitate abuse. Lying, disrespect, disobedience, low performance in school and destroying property are the main reasons for punishment.
Patterns of abusive behaviour may result in the physical or mental impairment of the child or even death. Small children are especially vulnerable to physical injury such as whiplash or shaken infant syndrome resulting from battery. Abused children are more likely to experience generalized anxiety, depression, truancy, shame and guilt, or suicidal and homicidal thoughts or to engage in criminal activity, promiscuity, and substance abuse.
Resources on child abuse prevention, protecting children from risk of abuse, and strengthening families Includes information on supporting families, protective factors, public awareness, community activities, positive parenting, prevention programs, and more. Understanding child abuse prevention and what to do when children are at risk Includes frequently asked questions and links to related Federal and national organizations and State contacts that work to prevent child abuse.
Ms Ribadu writes from Yola.