Child abuse is a major social problem in most communities. Child abuse refers any maltreatment against children that may result into physical, emotional or psychological harm. Child abuse may occur at home, within organizations, health care institutions as well as in learning institutions such as schools. Daro and the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (2011) define child abuse as any act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker that may result to the death, serious physical injury or emotional harm of a child. Accordingly, any act of the parent or caretaker that poses risks to the wellbeing of the child is also considered child abuse. On the other hand, the Child Welfare Information Gateway (2008) defines child abuse as any act or failure to act that presents potential risk of grave injury or harm to a child. Child abuse also refers to any act that humiliates, frightens or demeans a child. Child development experts define child abuse as any act or omission of an act that leads to failure to nurture child development effectively (Korbin, 2010). Child abuse usually affects children from various social, economical, cultural and religious backgrounds. In my view, child abuse affects all children equally regardless of their age, gender, religion or race.
History of Child Abuse
Child abuse is a social problem that has existed for more than three centuries. According to DeMause (2009), child abuse started in early 1880s. In the United States, the first incidence of child abuse was reported in New York City in mid 1804 (DeMause, 2009). Between 1945 and 1960, child abuse became a major problem in most states in the U.S. and there was increased need to address it effectively. By 1970, nearly fifty states in the U.S. had passed laws to protect children from abuse. According to Gil (2006) and Korbin (2010), child abuse dates back to the era of slavery when children were used as slaves in cotton plantations in South America.
Definition of Child Abuse in the Society
Child abuse is defined in the society by major laws and legislations of both federal and state governments. Similarly, human right activists and proponents of children’s rights also believe that child abuse is a major social problem that exists in most communities today. These people believe that any act that may cause both mild and serious injuries to a child is an abuse. Child abuse can be divided into four major categories; namely physical abuse, neglect, emotional and sexual abuse.
Causes of Child Abuse
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There are numerous factors that cause abuse of children. Some of these factors include inability of parents to cope with developmental changes amongst children especially during the adolescence stage, economic hardships and financial constraints and development of irresponsive behaviors by children. According to the American Humane Association (2012) and Warner (2009), parents and caretakers are also likely to neglect their children due to drug and substance abuse and excessive consumption of alcohol. For example, in the U.S., more than eighty-four percent of parents who reportedly abused their children were users of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and heavy drinkers of alcohol. Children born out of wedlock or due to unintended pregnancies are also likely to be abused and neglected. Similarly, children with physical disabilities and mental disorders are also more vulnerable to child abuse than normal children. Cultural beliefs and practices also greatly contribute to increase in abuse of children. For instance, most Asians believe that children should be disciplined through harsh punishments inflicted by the parents.
The Prevalence of Child Abuse
The Family and Community Services (2012) estimates that more than two thousand children are abused every year in the United States of America. Child neglect accounts for fifty-five percent whereas physical abuse accounts for twenty-two percent of child abuses. In addition, the organization further reports that sexual abuse accounts for eight percent whereas four percent of child abuses in the United States are emotional. A different reported compiled by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2008) revealed that the U.S. and United Kingdom are the major countries where child abuse is more prevalent. Moreover, experts of child development claim that child abuse is more prevalent in single-parent families as compared to families with both parents. Between October 2005 and September 2006, more than ninety thousand cases of child abuse were reported in the United States (Belsey, 2007). In 2009, nearly two thousand children died in the U.S. due to physical abuse. According to Belsey (2007), two children out of one hundred thousand children die every day in the U.S. due to child abuse. In 2007, a study by Cicchetti and Carlson (2008) revealed that nearly ten thousand children worldwide are physically or sexually abused, and even killed by non-biological parents or caretakers each day. Globally, neglect account for seventy-eight percent of child abuse whereas physical and sexual abuse account for fifty percent. Moreover, female children are more likely to suffer from sexual abuse as compared to male children. In my view, child abuse became a prevalent social problem due to the reluctance of people to solve it instantly.
Why Child Abuse is considered as a Major Social Problem Today
Child abuse is considered as a major social problem because of its adverse effects on the lives of children. In most cases, child abuse usually results in poor physical and mental health of children. For example, when a child is abused physically by the parent through unreasonable beating or hitting, the child gets physical injuries. Similarly, sexual abuse usually has adverse psychological effects on children. Children who get abused sexually often develop post-abuse trauma, fear, hatred, distress and emotional disturbances. Child abuse is highly prevalent in most communities, hence the need to consider it as a social disaster.
Individuals Affected by Child Abuse
The group of people who are most affected by child abuse are children. Moreover, children lose more when abused physically, sexually or emotionally. In my view, the perpetrators of child abuse are the ones who gain. For example, if a caretaker molests a child sexually, he derives sexual satisfaction from the act, although it is illegal, unethical and immoral.
In an interview with a group of children who have experienced child abuse in the past, I found out that most of the victims were abused by close relatives. In a different interview with human rights activists who advocate for the rights of children, I also found out that most cases of child abuse often go unnoticed and unreported.
I chose to interview victims of child abuse because they have first-hand information about the problems and experiences they face when abused physically, sexually or emotionally by their parents or caretakers. On the other hand, I chose to interview human rights activists because of their vast knowledge on various social problems affecting the society, especially violation of rights of children.
Effects of Child Abuse on Children
Child abuse has numerous effects on children. Firstly, child abuse results into resentment, fear and retaliation amongst children. Children who suffer from emotional or psychological abuse usually develop lack of trust, poor self-esteem and regrets. Physical and psychological abuse also leads to retarded growth and development of children. There are strong relationships between child abuse and chronic mental disorders among children. According to Warner (2009), children who are neglected, physically or emotionally abused are likely to develop psychiatric problems, impaired brain development, anxiety and depressions and poor physical health. Children who are abused at a tender age often develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when they become adults. In 2009, medical professionals and child development experts conducted a series of studies entitled Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) which revealed that increased exposure of children to child abuse usually results into chronic mental condition during adulthood (Warner, 2009). Similarly, children who are exposed to child abuse often have shorter lifespan and develop risky health behaviors such as excessive abuse of drugs, hostility towards family members and aggression.
Moreover, child abuse usually results into alienation and seclusion of children from social gatherings and families. Korbin (2010) also asserts that a child who experiences child abuse at a tender age is more likely to abuse other children as well. Lastly, physical abuse amongst children usually results into bone fractures. This increases their chances of developing physical disabilities and bone cancer.
What is missing in the Society for Effective Address of Child Abuse
In my opinion, the society has not been able to adequately address child abuse because of various socio-cultural beliefs and practices. For example, in most societies, it is believed that children are properties of their parents and thus should be subjected to their commands. Most people argue that parents should be allowed to treat their children as they wish. However, this contrasts the rights of children against maltreatment.
Remedy for Child Abuse
The best remedy for child abuse is to ensure that the rights of children are properly protected and no particular individual or entity violates such rights. For example, parents and caretakers should not be allowed to maltreat their children irresponsibly.
Expert Recommendations for Protection of Children from Child Abuse
The need to protect children from child abuse is a highly contentious issue in various parts of the world today. Various experts provide different recommendations and suggestions on how to protect and shield children from child abuse. Some of these recommendations are discussed below.
Firstly, criminologists Don Kates, Richard Felson and Gary Kleck urge that abusers of children should be sued and justice administered to their victims (Korbin, 2010). Moreover, mandatory reporting laws that require all citizens to report cases of child abuse to Child Advocacy Centers (CACs), Rape Crisis Centers (RCCs), the police and other relevant authorities should also be formulated and fully implemented. These laws provide protection to children from child abuse by ensuring that offenders are charged. Thus, formulation of state and federal laws that prohibit child abuse would offer protection to children against child abuse.
Secondly, human rights activist Burns Michael recommend that children can be protected from child abuse by minimizing their exposure to risky, dangerous and unsafe conditions or environments that may lead to child abuse. For example, children should not be left with unknown people or strangers. This would ensure that children are protected from various forms of abuses such as sexual, physical and psychological abuses. In addition, children who might have been exposed to child abuse such as neglect should be taken to orphanages where they can be guarded and given adequate protection. In addition, the orphanages would also provide protection to children who come from dysfunctional families where they experience domestic violence and physical abuses.
Thirdly, educationist and children’s rights activist Janusz Korczak recommend that children can be protected from child abuse through termination or reduction of exclusive rights of parents over their children. Due to increased tensions between the rights of parents and children and dynamic needs of children, young children can be protected from abuse through creating a balance between parental rights and children’s rights. Thus, there is need to ensure that parents as well as caretakers do not violate the rights of children. This can be achieved through imposition of heavy fines and/or imprisonment of parents, caretakers or guardians who violate the rights of children as well as jailing other people who abuse children.
Fourthly, educationist Korczak recommends that parents should teach their children how to protect themselves from potential abuses. For example, using the bad touch and good touch technique, parents should teach children how to avoid body contacts that may result into sexual abuse such as rape. According to sociologist Mitchell Duneier and family therapist John Bowlby, adequate communication between parents and children is an essential and highly effective tool for providing protection to children against child abuse (Warner, 2009). Similarly, Gil (2006) also asserts that lack of communication is the greatest drawback in efforts to protect children from child abuse.
Last but not least, children can be protected from child abuse by providing them with child protection services (CPSs). These are highly-tailored services that aim at protecting children against abuses. Parents, guardians, caregivers and members of the community should cooperate and work closely with state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations that provide such services in order to ensure that children are protected from abusers or offenders. This may also involve hiring legal experts to assist in seeking justice for victims of child abuse.