53% of children in India face some form of child sexual abuse. To what extent will the new Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill help ? And is it time for campaigners to replace ‘vulnerability’ with ‘oppression’ and ‘protection’ with ‘empowerment’ in the battle against CSA ?
The recent sentencing of Alan Waters and Duncan Grant to six years’ imprisonment for the sexual abuse of young boys who were in their care at the Anchorage shelter in South Mumbai has once again drawn our attention to the need for stringent legislation and action against those who exploit children for sexual purposes.
Earlier this year, the central government did draft such a legislation : the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill was sent to the various states for consideration. One version of the Bill became available to the press through sources at the Ministry of Women and Child Development. One clause in particular (regarding the decriminalising of non-penetrative sexual exploration between children older than 12) was much discussed in various public and media forums. Prior to this, the sexual abuse of children became a matter of public interest following publication of the report by the MWCD entitled ‘Study on Child Abuse India 2007’ which revealed that more than 53% of children in India have probably been sexually abused and many have never shared the fact of this abuse with anyone.
Periodically therefore, when there is a report that generates public interest or a high-profile case of paedophilia, the sexual abuse of children becomes a matter of public concern and often of anger and indignation. As Chris Jenks points out in his essay published in 1996, Suffer Little Children : A Sociological Analysis of Changing Attitudes to Child Abuse in the Late-Twentieth Century’ child abuse is one of those topics/issues in response to which “normative assumptions inherent in the notions of ‘decency’ and ‘right-mindedness’ are automatically invoked”.
The present article focuses on the issue of child sexual abuse in India as a sociological one. There are several arguments made in the field of childhood studies on the linkages between the notions of Child and Nation and the overloading of nostalgia and romance that surrounds the trope of Childhood. In that discourse the public furore and the similarity of response among various stakeholders is read as an automatic defence of discourses concerning “stability, integration and the social bond”. In itself, this approach contains much to learn from and take cognisance of for all those who engage in various ways with this issue. However, this makes for a separate argument and article altogether. For the moment, it is necessary to understand the extent of the problem of CSA in India and the ways in which child protection mechanisms of the state and civil society engage with it.
What is child sexual abuse ?
According to the World Health Organisation, child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society.
It is important at this stage, to separate the broader issue of child abuse from the specific one of child sexual abuse. Child abuse may be emotional, mental, physical or sexual and encompasses a much wider gamut of actions. Child sexual abuse is that which targets sexuality and/or sexual organs, involves sexual gestures, words, pictures, actions.
While releasing the report on child abuse in India, Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury said, “Child abuse is shrouded in secrecy and there is a conspiracy of silence around the entire subject.” This is only one of the many problems faced by those working in social development, legislation and justice, both in government and non-government bodies. The above-mentioned report for instance says, “One of the major problems in understanding the scope of the subject of ‘child abuse’ is that it is extremely difficult to get responses from children on such a sensitive subject because of their inability to fully understand the different dimensions of child abuse and to talk about their experiences. It is therefore difficult to gather data on abused children.” Child rights activists argue that the problem may not be the child’s inability to speak about sensitive subjects, as much as the lack of skills on the part of the questioners to create the environment and the trust required to enable the child to share his/her experiences.
Child sexual abuse in India
Currently, the Indian Constitution recognises various crimes against children that are linked to their sexual abuse – The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act that protects children below the age of 16 from being used for the purposes of commercial sex. The Juvenile Justice Act Section 26 (Exploitation of Juvenile or Child Employee) provides for punishment if a person procures a juvenile for hazardous employment. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act also makes punishable the practice of marrying girls under the age of 18 and boys under the age of 21. In addition to these legislations there is also a commission for the protection of the rights of children which inquires into various violations of child rights and recommends initiation of proceedings as seen necessary.
It is important to understand that sexual offences against children can and are committed in all the above situations – marriage, trafficking, employment – and in many more. It is equally important to understand the kinds of social and legislative circumstances that allow for and may even be a reason for sexual abuse. Interactions with people in slums in urban centres for instance, reveals that many get their children married young to protect them from sexual abuse. Once a girl attains puberty she begins to be seen as sexually available. For some parents marriage is the only way to ensure that the girl is ‘unavailable’ to others for abuse.
Among the Naths of Bihar, prostitution is a way of life. When a family doesn’t have a daughter, girls are purchased from other parts of the state and pushed into sex work so that the family can live off their earnings. Children who work as domestic labour, or help in hotels and restaurants, are susceptible to sexual abuse at the hands of employers and customers. In addition to these situations, children across caste and class lines are vulnerable within their families, to abuse from relatives and friends of the family.
A number of children go missing every year – some are sold by their families, some are kidnapped, others lured by the promise of a better life both for themselves and their kin. According to CRY (Child Rights and You)
- 8,945 children go missing in India every year
- 500,000 children are estimated to be forced into the sex trade every year
- Approximately 2 million child commercial sex workers are between the ages of 5 and 15 years
- Approximately 3.3 million child commercial sex workers are between 15 and 18 years
- Children form 40% of the total population of commercial sex workers
- 80% of these children are found in the five metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore
- 71% of them are illiterate.
It is thus apparent that a network of deprivations and vulnerabilities – poverty, age, gender, caste, lack of safe spaces, lack of schools, lack of proper institutional care for children without functional families – create situations where children are sexually exploited. While some psychologists do argue that violators are ‘psychopathic’ or ‘dysfunctional’ in various ways, it is important to identify and engage with the many ways in which children become disempowered in our society so that they are seen as easy targets of sexual oppression.
Vulnerability or oppression ?
Jenny Kitzinger (Defending Innocence : Ideologies of Childhood) critiques the over-emphasis on children’s vulnerability and the resulting lack of control that children have over their bodies. According to her, “…the notion of children’s innate vulnerability…is an ideology of control which diverts attention away from the socially constructed oppression of children…” She suggests that as a first step we replace notions of ‘vulnerability’ with ‘oppression’ or ‘powerlessness’ and discourses of ‘protection’ with those of ‘empowerment’. Going a step further, she denounces the practice of telling a child that s/he “can say ‘no’”. At best she feels that this is an individualist solution. At worst, it is giving the child a sense that s/he can resist a power that in reality, s/he can probably not.
As a society, it is important to recognise that the sexual exploitation of children is fundamentally about power. For instance, the case of a 15-year-old girl who was raped by a policeman in Mumbai shows clearly how both power and the lack of it collude to render children vulnerable. The victim is from a poor family and was to be ‘helped’ by the person who took her to the policeman for sexual exploitation. Her assaulter was not only male and adult, but also a policeman – someone considered very powerful by the aam aadmi in the city.
Those who target children realise that they are less likely to speak about the incident/s, that even if they do few will believe them, that even if they are believed there may be little that community members will do about it, that even if some action is taken there are loopholes in court processes that can be availed of. In the Anchorage case for instance, despite several articulate lawyers and activists being involved in the entire process on behalf of the children who were abused, the High Court saw the children as ‘unreliable witnesses’.
Legislation to protect children from sexual abuse
In order to address various circumstances and degrees of sexual offences against children, in 2005, the Offences Against Children Bill was drafted. In 2007, the law ministry rejected the bill saying that there was no reason for a separate enactment since the various issues the bill focussed on were already covered by other legislations. In 2009 discussions anchored by TULIR Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse led to the framing of a specific bill for sexual offences against children. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill has currently been sent to the state governments for consideration.
The draft of the Prevention of Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2011 delineates various kinds of sexual abuse and the prescribed response to each under the law. It clearly distinguishes between sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, penetrative sexual assault, aggravated penetrative sexual assault and sexual harassment. In each case, the kinds of actions that fall under the section are specified, and minimum and maximum punishments given. In the final section of the Bill, there is a detailed section that lists responsibilities of various dutybearers to the child – police officers, child support services, medical officer and case worker. It also lists the protocol to be followed by police and medical practitioners, as well as during court processes.
1. It acknowledges and engages with sexual crimes of all kinds – real/virtual ; penetrative/ non- penetrative ; homosexual/ heterosexual/ bestial ; verbal/ physical.
Pro : This is a major improvement on the earlier situation, when child sexual abuse was clubbed with sexual abuse of adults. It acknowledges that sexual violations can be of various kinds and that in the case of children, the state must take a clear punitive stand on any kind of sexual violation.
Con : People who provide support to victims of CSA often prefer that the distinction be between contact and non-contact sexual offences. They feel this detailing may offer loopholes in implementation that are not being foreseen currently.
2. It is gender-inclusive, accepting that the perpetrators as well as the victims may be either male or female.
Pro : It is otherwise commonly assumed that sexual abuse can only be initiated by a male upon a female child. The recent study on CSA by the Government of India indicates that boys possibly face more sexual abuse than girls.
3. It puts the onus of innocence on the accused
Pro : Under this Bill, the person accused of CSA would need to prove his innocence rather than having to be proven guilty. This would imply that a person once accused of CSA would be assumed guilty until proven otherwise. Some activists feel that this provision is necessary to protect victims and to ensure that the process focuses on procuring justice for children.
Con : While the intent behind the provision is probably to ensure that the pressure of proof does not rest on the victim, many have raised objection to it stating that it is in violation of a fundamental principle of justice in India - that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
4. It specifies timeframes within which each state must have the required mechanisms and bodies in place to enable it to be responsive towards cases of child sexual abuse
Pro : The length of the legal process has been a recurrent problem especially with criminal cases where children are victims. Under this Bill, there will be separate courts in place within six months, and these courts will have a set of child support systems in place to ensure that the judicial process is responsive.
Con : This puts additional pressure on an already overburdened judicial system, creating yet another parallel track for them to cater to. Instead of facilitating justice, it might be another excuse to delay it.
5. It puts guidelines in place for major stakeholders in the process, in an attempt to ensure processes that are sensitive to the child but that also respect the right of the child to state her/his case/ experience.
Pro : The Bill’s attention to detail leaves no room for abdication of responsibility by those involved in the process of protection of children.
Con : The excessive focus on processes and requirements for specialists duplicates much of what is in the Juvenile Justice Act and only ensures that the process of getting the Bill passed will overwhelm the reason for its existence.
Several civil society actors have given their feedback on the Bill. HAQ : Centre for Child Rights welcomes the Bill but requests that it be opened up for consultation by the parliamentary committee dealing with it as there is still scope for strengthening it. FACSE (Forum Against Child Sexual Exploitation) believes that it might be preferable to introduce changes to the IPC rather than formulate an entirely new legislation. This stand comes from their experience of the challenges posed for implementation, especially in smaller cities/ towns and villages where basic judicial processes are flawed and systems missing. “In Mumbai, there will be pressure to ensure implementation. But what will happen in other cities, where often police and other stakeholders are not even aware of provisions for children under the JJ Act, which is now 10 years old.”
Despite this concern regarding operationalising the Bill, almost all stakeholders accept that the current legislation is insufficient to deal with the many circumstances in which children are sexually abused. There is also an acknowledgement that social workers, superintendents of residential homes, wardens, counsellors, teachers and family members all need training and sensitising to the issue and that a minimum set of actions be put in place enabling people to help a child who is being sexually exploited. It is only by continuing to hear what children say and develop more ways of hearing them and enabling them, that mechanisms can be created to address their exploitation and punish their violators.
This article is available in French : Enfants victimes d’abus sexuels en Inde : la loi du silence
"Child Maltreatment" redirects here. For the journal, see Child Maltreatment (journal).
Child abuse or child maltreatment is physical, sexual, or psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or other caregiver. Child abuse may include any act or failure to act by a parent or other caregiver that results in actual or potential harm to a child, and can occur in a child's home, or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with.
The terms child abuse and child maltreatment are often used interchangeably, although some researchers make a distinction between them, treating child maltreatment as an umbrella term to cover neglect, exploitation, and trafficking.
Different jurisdictions have developed their own definitions of what constitutes child abuse for the purposes of removing children from their families or prosecuting a criminal charge.
Definitions of what constitutes child abuse vary among professionals, and between social and cultural groups, as well as across time. The terms abuse and maltreatment are often used interchangeably in the literature.:11Child maltreatment can also be an umbrella term covering all forms of child abuse and child neglect. Defining child maltreatment depends on prevailing cultural values as they relate to children, child development, and parenting. Definitions of child maltreatment can vary across the sectors of society which deal with the issue, such as child protection agencies, legal and medical communities, public health officials, researchers, practitioners, and child advocates. Since members of these various fields tend to use their own definitions, communication across disciplines can be limited, hampering efforts to identify, assess, track, treat, and prevent child maltreatment.:3
In general, abuse refers to (usually deliberate) acts of commission while neglect refers to acts of omission.Child maltreatment includes both acts of commission and acts of omission on the part of parents or caregivers that cause actual or threatened harm to a child. Some health professionals and authors consider neglect as part of the definition of abuse, while others do not; this is because the harm may have been unintentional, or because the caregivers did not understand the severity of the problem, which may have been the result of cultural beliefs about how to raise a child. Delayed effects of child abuse and neglect, especially emotional neglect, and the diversity of acts that qualify as child abuse, are also factors.
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." In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses the term child maltreatment to refer to both acts of commission (abuse), which include "words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child", and acts of omission (neglect), meaning "the failure to provide for a child's basic physical, emotional, or educational needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm".:11 The United States federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum, "any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation" or "an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm".
The World Health Organization distinguishes four types of child maltreatment: physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional and psychological abuse; and neglect.
Among professionals and the general public, people often do not agree on what behaviors constitute physical abuse of a child. Physical abuse often does not occur in isolation, but as part of a constellation of behaviors including authoritarian control, anxiety-provoking behavior, and a lack of parental warmth. The WHO defines physical abuse as:
Intentional use of physical force against the child that results in – or has a high likelihood of resulting in – harm for the child's health, survival, development or dignity. This includes hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, strangling, scalding, burning, poisoning and suffocating. Much physical violence against children in the home is inflicted with the object of punishing.
Joan Durrant and Ron Ensom write that most physical abuse is physical punishment "in intent, form, and effect". Overlapping definitions of physical abuse and physical punishment of children highlight a subtle or non-existent distinction between abuse and punishment. For instance, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro writes in the UN Secretary-General's Study on Violence Against Children:
Corporal punishment involves hitting ('smacking', 'slapping', 'spanking') children, with the hand or with an implement – whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children's mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices).
Most nations with child abuse laws deem the deliberate infliction of serious injuries, or actions that place the child at obvious risk of serious injury or death, to be illegal bruises, scratches, burns, broken bones, lacerations, as well as repeated "mishaps," and rough treatment that could cause physical injury, can be physical abuse. Multiple injuries or fractures at different stages of healing can raise suspicion of abuse.
The psychologist Alice Miller, noted for her books on child abuse, took the view that humiliations, spankings and beatings, slaps in the face, etc. are all forms of abuse, because they injure the integrity and dignity of a child, even if their consequences are not visible right away.
Often, physical abuse as a child can lead to physical and mental difficulties in the future, including re-victimization, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, substance abuse, and aggression. Physical abuse in childhood has also been linked to homelessness in adulthood.
Main articles: Child sexual abuse and child-on-child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent abuses a child for sexual stimulation. Sexual abuse refers to the participation of a child in a sexual act aimed toward the physical gratification or the financial profit of the person committing the act. Forms of CSA include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities (regardless of the outcome), indecent exposure of the genitals to a child, displaying pornography to a child, actual sexual contact with a child, physical contact with the child's genitals, viewing of the child's genitalia without physical contact, or using a child to produce child pornography.Selling the sexual services of children may be viewed and treated as child abuse rather than simple incarceration.
Effects of child sexual abuse on the victim(s) include guilt and self-blame, flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, fear of things associated with the abuse (including objects, smells, places, doctor's visits, etc.), self-esteem difficulties, sexual dysfunction, chronic pain, addiction, self-injury, suicidal ideation, somatic complaints, depression,post-traumatic stress disorder,anxiety, other mental illnesses including borderline personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder, propensity to re-victimization in adulthood,bulimia nervosa, and physical injury to the child, among other problems. Children who are the victims are also at an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections due to their immature immune systems and a high potential for mucosal tears during forced sexual contact. Sexual victimization at a young age has been correlated with several risk factors for contracting HIV including decreased knowledge of sexual topics, increased prevalence of HIV, engagement in risky sexual practices, condom avoidance, lower knowledge of safe sex practices, frequent changing of sexual partners, and more years of sexual activity.
In the United States, approximately 15% to 25% of women and 5% to 15% of men were sexually abused when they were children. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances such as friends of the family, babysitters, or neighbours; strangers are the offenders in approximately 10% of child sexual abuse cases. In over one-third of cases, the perpetrator is also a minor.
In 1999 the BBC reported on the RAHI Foundation's survey of sexual abuse in India, in which 76% of respondents said they had been abused as children, 40% of those stating the perpetrator was a family member.
Main article: Psychological abuse
There are multiple definitions of child psychological abuse:
- In 2013, the American Psychological Association (APA) added Child Psychological Abuse to the DSM-5, describing it as "nonaccidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child's parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child."
- In 1995, APSAC defined it as: spurning, terrorizing, isolating, exploiting, corrupting, denying emotional responsiveness, or neglect" or "A repeated pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incident(s) that convey to children that they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value in meeting another's needs"
- In the United States, states laws vary, but most have laws against "mental injury"
- Some have defined it as the production of psychological and social defects in the growth of a child as a result of behavior such as loud yelling, coarse and rude attitude, inattention, harsh criticism, and denigration of the child's personality. Other examples include name-calling, ridicule, degradation, destruction of personal belongings, torture or killing of a pet, excessive criticism, inappropriate or excessive demands, withholding communication, and routine labeling or humiliation.
In 2014, the APA stated that:
- "Childhood psychological abuse [is] as harmful as sexual or physical abuse."
- "Nearly 3 million U.S. children experience some form of [psychological] maltreatment annually."
- Psychological maltreatment is "the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect."
- "Given the prevalence of childhood psychological abuse and the severity of harm to young victims, it should be at the forefront of mental health and social service training"
In 2015, additional research confirmed these 2014 statements of the APA.
Victims of emotional abuse may react by distancing themselves from the abuser, internalizing the abusive words, or fighting back by insulting the abuser. Emotional abuse can result in abnormal or disrupted attachment development, a tendency for victims to blame themselves (self-blame) for the abuse, learned helplessness, and overly passive behavior.
Main article: Child neglect
Child neglect is the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child, to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child's health, safety or well-being may be threatened with harm. Neglect is also a lack of attention from the people surrounding a child, and the non-provision of the relevant and adequate necessities for the child's survival, which would be a lacking in attention, love, and nurture.
Some observable signs of child neglect include: the child is frequently absent from school, begs or steals food or money, lacks needed medical and dental care, is consistently dirty, or lacks sufficient clothing for the weather. The 2010 Child Maltreatment Report (NCANDS), a yearly United States federal government report based on data supplied by state Child Protective Services (CPS) Agencies in the U.S., states, "as in prior years, neglect was the most common form of maltreatment".
Neglectful acts can be divided into six sub-categories:
- Supervisory neglect: characterized by the absence of a parent or guardian which can lead to physical harm, sexual abuse or criminal behavior;
- Physical neglect: characterized by the failure to provide the basic physical necessities, such as a safe and clean home;
- Medical neglect: characterized by the lack of providing medical care;
- Emotional neglect: characterized by a lack of nurturance, encouragement and support;
- Educational neglect: characterized by the caregivers lack to provide an education and additional resources to actively participate in the school system; and
- Abandonment: when the parent or guardian leaves a child alone for a long period of time without a babysitter.
Neglected children may experience delays in physical and psychosocial development, possibly resulting in psychopathology and impaired neuropsychological functions including executive function, attention, processing speed, language, memory and social skills. Researchers investigating maltreated children have repeatedly found that neglected children in foster and adoptive populations manifest different emotional and behavioral reactions to regain lost or secure relationships and are frequently reported to have disorganized attachments and a need to control their environment. Such children are not likely to view caregivers as being a source of safety, and instead typically show an increase in aggressive and hyperactive behaviors which may disrupt healthy or secure attachment with their adopted parents. These children have apparently learned to adapt to an abusive and inconsistent caregiver by becoming cautiously self-reliant, and are often described as glib, manipulative and disingenuous in their interactions with others as they move through childhood. Children who are victims of neglect have a more difficult time forming and maintaining relationships, such as romantic or friendship, later in life due to the lack of attachment they had in their earlier stages of life.
Child abuse can result in immediate adverse physical effects but it is also strongly associated with developmental problems and with many chronic physical and psychological effects, including subsequent ill-health, including higher rates of chronic conditions, high-risk health behaviors and shortened lifespan.
Maltreated children may grow up to be maltreating adults. A 1991 source reported that studies indicate that 90 percent of maltreating adults were maltreated as children. Almost 7 million American infants receive child care services, such as day care, and much of that care is poor.
Child abuse can cause a range of emotional effects. Children who are constantly ignored, shamed, terrorized or humiliated suffer at least as much, if not more, than if they are physically assaulted. According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, brain development of the child is greatly influenced and responds to the experiences with families, caregivers, and the community. Abused children can grow up experiencing insecurities, low self-esteem, and lack of development. Many abused children experience ongoing difficulties with trust, social withdrawal, trouble in school, and forming relationships.
Babies and young children can be affected differently by abuse than their older counterparts. Babies and pre-school children who are being emotionally abused or neglected may be overly affectionate towards strangers or people they haven't known for very long. They can lack confidence or become anxious, appear to not have a close relationship with their parent, exhibit aggressive behavior or act nasty towards other children and animals. Older children may use foul language or act in a markedly different way to other children at the same age, struggle to control strong emotions, seem isolated from their parents, lack social skills or have few, if any, friends.
Children can also experience reactive attachment disorder (RAD). RAD is defined as markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate social relatedness, that usually begins before the age of 5 years. RAD can present as a persistent failure to start or respond in a developmentally appropriate fashion to most social situations. The long-term impact of emotional abuse has not been studied widely, but recent studies have begun to document its long-term consequences. Emotional abuse has been linked to increased depression, anxiety, and difficulties in interpersonal relationships (Spertus, Wong, Halligan, & Seremetis, 2003). Victims of child abuse and neglect are more likely to commit crimes as juveniles and adults.
Domestic violence also takes its toll on children; although the child is not the one being abused, the child witnessing the domestic violence is greatly influential as well. Research studies conducted such as the "Longitudinal Study on the Effects of Child Abuse and Children's Exposure to Domestic Violence", show that 36.8% of children engage in felony assault compared to the 47.5% of abused/assaulted children. Research has shown that children exposed to domestic violence increases the chances of experienced behavioral and emotional problems (depression, irritability, anxiety, academic problems, and problems in language development).
Overall, emotional effects caused by child abuse and even witnessing abuse can result in long-term and short-term effects that ultimately affect a child's upbringing and development.
The immediate physical effects of abuse or neglect can be relatively minor (bruises or cuts) or severe (broken bones, hemorrhage, or even death). In some cases the physical effects are temporary; however, the pain and suffering they cause a child should not be discounted. Rib fractures may be seen with physical abuse, and if present may increase suspicion of abuse, but are found in a small minority of children with maltreatment-related injuries.
The long-term impact of child abuse and neglect on physical health and development can be:
- Shaken baby syndrome. Shaking a baby is a common form of child abuse that often results in permanent neurological damage (80% of cases) or death (30% of cases). Damage results from intracranial hypertension (increased pressure in the skull) after bleeding in the brain, damage to the spinal cord and neck, and rib or bone fractures.
- Impaired brain development. Child abuse and neglect have been shown, in some cases, to cause important regions of the brain to fail to form or grow properly, resulting in impaired development. These alterations in brain maturation have long-term consequences for cognitive, language, and academic abilities.
- Poor physical health. In addition to possible immediate adverse physical effects, household dysfunction and childhood maltreatment are strongly associated with many chronic physical and psychological effects, including subsequent ill-health in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, with higher rates of chronic conditions, high-risk health behaviors and shortened lifespan. Adults who experienced abuse or neglect during childhood are more likely to suffer from physical ailments such as allergies, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure, and ulcers. There may be a higher risk of developing cancer later in life, as well as possible immune dysfunction.
- Exposure to violence during childhood is associated with shortened telomeres and with reduced telomerase activity. The increased rate of telomere length reduction correlates to a reduction in lifespan of 7 to 15 years.
Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study is a long-running investigation into the relationship between childhood adversity, including various forms of abuse and neglect, and health problems in later life. The initial phase of the study was conducted in San Diego, California from 1995 to 1997. The World Health Organization summarizes the study's findings as follows:
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, in which some 17,300 middle-aged, middle-class and mostly employed residents of the state of California participated, suggests that childhood maltreatment and household dysfunction contribute to the development – decades later – of the chronic diseases that are the most common causes of death and disability in the United States. The study examined the long-term effects of maltreatment and household dysfunction during childhood, including: psychological, physical and sexual abuse; violence against the mother; and living with household members who were either substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or else had been in prison. A strong relationship was seen between the number of adverse experiences (including physical and sexual abuse in childhood) and self-reports of cigarette smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, attempted suicide, sexual promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases in later life. Furthermore, people who reported higher numbers of negative experiences in childhood were much more likely to exhibit multiple health-risk behaviours, which the study suggested were adopted as coping devices. Similarly, the more adverse childhood experiences reported, the more likely the person was to have heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, skeletal fractures, liver disease and poor health as an adult. Maltreatment and other adverse childhood experiences may thus be among the basic factors that underlie health risks, illness and death, and could be identified by routine screening of all patients. Although the ACE study and its findings relate to a specific population within the United States, it is reasonable to assume that similar trends might be found in countries with different levels of economic and social development.
A long-term study of adults retrospectively reporting adverse childhood experiences including verbal, physical and sexual abuse, as well as other forms of childhood trauma found 25.9% of adults reported verbal abuse as children, 14.8% reported physical abuse, and 12.2% reported sexual abuse. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System corroborate these high rates. There is a high correlation between the number of different adverse childhood experiences (A.C.E.s) and risk for poor health outcomes in adults including cancer, heart attack, mental illness, reduced longevity drug and alcohol abuse. An anonymous self-reporting survey of Washington State students finds 6–7% of 8th, 10th and 12th grade students actually attempt suicide. Rates of depression are twice as high. Other risk behaviors are even higher. There is a relationship between child physical and sexual abuse and suicide. For legal and cultural reasons as well as fears by children of being taken away from their parents most childhood abuse goes unreported and unsubstantiated.
It has been discovered that childhood abuse can lead to the addiction of drugs and alcohol in adolescence and adult life. Studies show that any type of abuse experienced in childhood can cause neurological changes making an individual more prone to addictive tendencies. A significant study examined 900 court cases of children who had experienced sexual and physical abuse along with neglect. The study found that a large sum of the children who were abused are now currently addicted to alcohol. This case study outlines how addiction is a significant effect of childhood abuse.
Children who have a history of neglect or physical abuse are at risk of developing psychiatric problems, or a disorganized attachment style. In addition, children who experience child abuse or neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as juveniles, 28% more likely to be arrested as adults, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime. Disorganized attachment is associated with a number of developmental problems, including dissociative symptoms, as well as anxiety, depressive, and acting out symptoms. A study by Dante Cicchetti found that 80% of abused and maltreated infants exhibited symptoms of disorganized attachment. When some of these children become parents, especially if they suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociative symptoms, and other sequelae of child abuse, they may encounter difficulty when faced with their infant and young children's needs and normative distress, which may in turn lead to adverse consequences for their child's social-emotional development. Additionally, children may find it difficult to feel empathy towards themselves or others, which may cause them to feel alone and unable to make friends. Despite these potential difficulties, psychosocial intervention can be effective, at least in some cases, in changing the ways maltreated parents think about their young children.
Victims of childhood abuse also suffer from different types of physical health problems later in life. Some reportedly suffer from some type of chronic head, abdominal, pelvic, or muscular pain with no identifiable reason. Even though the majority of childhood abuse victims know or believe that their abuse is, or can be, the cause of different health problems in their adult life, for the great majority their abuse was not directly associated with those problems, indicating that sufferers were most likely diagnosed with other possible causes for their health problems, instead of their childhood abuse. One long-term study found that up to 80% of abused people had at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21, with problems including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. One Canadian hospital found that between 36% and 76% of women mental health outpatients had been sexually abused, as had 58% of women and 23% of men schizophrenic inpatients. A recent study has discovered that a crucial structure in the brain's reward circuits is compromised by childhood abuse and neglect, and predicts Depressive Symptoms later in life.
In the case of 23 of the 27 illnesses listed in the questionnaire of a French INSEE survey, some statistically significant correlations were found between repeated illness and family traumas encountered by the child before the age of 18 years. According to Georges Menahem, the French sociologist who found out these correlations by studying health inequalities, these relationships show that inequalities in illness and suffering are not only social. Health inequality also has its origins in the family, where it is associated with the degrees of lasting affective problems (lack of affection, parental discord, the prolonged absence of a parent, or a serious illness affecting either the mother or father) that individuals report having experienced in childhood.
Many children who have been abused in any form develop some sort of psychological problem. These problems may include: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, OCD, co-dependency, or even a lack of human connections. There is also a slight tendency for children who have been abused to become child abusers themselves. In the U.S. in 2013, of the 294,000 reported child abuse cases only 81,124 received any sort of counseling or therapy. Treatment is greatly important for abused children.
On the other hand, there are some children who are raised in child abuse, but who manage to do unexpectedly well later in life regarding the preconditions. Such children have been termed dandelion children, as inspired from the way that dandelions seem to prosper irrespective of soil, sun, drought, or rain. Such children (or currently grown-ups) are of high interest in finding factors that mitigate the effects of child abuse.
Child abuse is a complex phenomenon with multiple causes. No single factor can be identified as to why some adults behave violently toward children. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) identify multiple factors at the level of the individual, their relationships, their local community, and their society at large, that combine to influence the occurrence of child maltreatment. At the individual level, such factors include age, sex, and personal history, while at the level of society, factors contributing to child maltreatment include cultural norms encouraging harsh physical punishment of children, economic inequality, and the lack of social safety nets. WHO and ISPCAN state that understanding the complex interplay of various risk factors is vital for dealing with the problem of child maltreatment.
The American psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl maintains that harm to children is justified and made acceptable by widely held beliefs in children's inherent subservience to adults, resulting in a largely unacknowledged prejudice against children she terms childism. She contends that such prejudice, while not the immediate cause of child maltreatment, must be investigated in order to understand the motivations behind a given act of abuse, as well as to shed light on societal failures to support children's needs and development in general.:4–6 Founding editor of the International Journal of Children's Rights, Michael Freeman, also argues that the ultimate causes of child abuse lie in prejudice against children, especially the view that human rights do not apply equally to adults and children. He writes, "the roots of child abuse lie not in parental psycho-pathology or in socio-environmental stress (though their influences cannot be discounted) but in a sick culture which denigrates and depersonalizes, which reduces children to property, to sexual objects so that they become the legitimate victims of both adult violence and lust".
Parents who physically abuse their spouses are more likely than others to physically abuse their children. However, it is impossible to know whether marital strife is a cause of child abuse, or if both the marital strife and the abuse are caused by tendencies in the abuser. Sometimes, parents set expectations for their child that are clearly beyond the child's capability. When parents' expectations are far beyond what is appropriate to the child (e.g., preschool children who are expected to be totally responsible for self-care or provision of nurturance to parents) the resulting frustration caused by the child's non-compliance is believed to function as a contributory if not necessary cause of child abuse.
Most acts of physical violence against children are undertaken with the intent to punish. In the United States, interviews with parents reveal that as many as two thirds of documented instances of physical abuse begin as acts of corporal punishment meant to correct a child's behavior, while a large-scale Canadian study found that three quarters of substantiated cases of physical abuse of children have occurred within the context of physical punishment. Other studies have shown that children and infants who are spanked by parents are several times more likely to be severely assaulted by their parents or suffer an injury requiring medical attention. Studies indicate that such abusive treatment often involves parents attributing conflict to their child's willfulness or rejection, as well as "coercive family dynamics and conditioned emotional responses". Factors involved in the escalation of ordinary physical punishment by parents into confirmed child abuse may be the punishing parent's inability to control their anger or judge their own strength, and the parent being unaware of the child's physical vulnerabilities.
Some professionals argue that cultural norms that sanction physical punishment are one of the causes of child abuse, and have undertaken campaigns to redefine such norms.
Children resulting from unintended pregnancies are more likely to be abused or neglected. In addition, unintended pregnancies are more likely than intended pregnancies to be associated with abusive relationships, and there is an increased risk of physical violence during pregnancy. They also result in poorer maternal mental health, and lower mother-child relationship quality.
There is some limited evidence that children with moderate or severe disabilities are more likely to be victims of abuse than non-disabled children. A study on child abuse sought to determine: the forms of child abuse perpetrated on children with disabilities; the extent of child abuse; and the causes of child abuse of children with disabilities. A questionnaire on child abuse was adapted and used to collect data in this study. Participants comprised a sample of 31 pupils with disabilities (15 children with vision impairment and 16 children with hearing impairment) selected from special schools in Botswana. The study found that the majority of participants were involved in doing domestic chores. They were also sexually, physically and emotionally abused by their teachers. This study showed that children with disabilities were vulnerable to child abuse in their schools.
Substance abuse can be a major contributing factor to child abuse. One U.S. study found that parents with documented substance abuse, most commonly alcohol, cocaine, and heroin, were much more likely to mistreat their children, and were also much more likely to reject court-ordered services and treatments. Another study found that over two-thirds of cases of child maltreatment involved parents with substance abuse problems. This study specifically found relationships between alcohol and physical abuse, and between cocaine and sexual abuse. Also parental stress caused by substance increases the likelihood of the minor exhibiting internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Although the abuse victim does not always realize the abuse is wrong, the internal confusion can lead to chaos. Inner anger turns to outer frustration. Once aged 17/18, drink and drugs are used to numb the hurt feelings, nightmares and daytime flashbacks. Acquisitive crimes to pay for the chemicals are inevitable if the victim is unable to find employment.
Unemployment and financial difficulties are associated with increased rates of child abuse. In 2009 CBS News reported that child abuse in the United States had increased during the economic recession. It gave the example of a father who had never been the primary care-taker of the children. Now that the father was in that role, the children began to come in with injuries.
Child abuse is an international phenomenon. Poverty and substance abuse are common social problems worldwide, and no matter the location, show a similar trend in the correlation to child abuse.
Although these factors can likely contribute to child maltreatment, differences in cultural perspectives play a significant role in the treatment of children. In certain nations, the battle for equality within the sexes plays a large part in a child’s upbringing. During the Soviet period, there were conflicts regarding the traditional housewife versus the emphasis on equality within the sexes. Some women felt a considerable amount of pressure to carry out their motherly duties, obtaining an "authoritarian" parenting style, acting dominating and emotionally distant towards her children while overly involved in her own career. Many were encouraged to use more firm and direct disciplinary methods, as well as be overbearing and overprotective of their children.
With the end of the Communist Era, many positive changes have followed. While there is a new openness and acceptance regarding parenting styles and close relationships with children, child abuse still remains a serious concern. Although it is now more publicly recognized, it has certainly not ceased to exist. While controlling parenting may be less of a concern, financial difficulty, unemployment, and substance abuse still remain to be dominating factors in child abuse throughout Eastern Europe.
A study conducted by members from several Baltic and Eastern European countries, together with specialists from the United States, examined the causes of child abuse in the countries of Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia and Moldova. In these countries, respectively, 33%, 42%, 18% and 43% of children reported at least one type of child abuse. According to their findings, there was a series of correlations between the potential risk factors of parental employment status, alcohol abuse, and family size within the abuse ratings. In three of the four countries, parental substance abuse was considerably correlated with the presence of child abuse, and although it was a lower percentage, still showed a relationship in the fourth country (Moldova). Each country also showed a connection between the father not working outside of the home and either emotional or physical child abuse.
These cultural differences can be studied from many perspectives. Most importantly, overall parental behavior is genuinely different in various countries. Each culture has their own "range of acceptability," and what one may view as offensive, others may seem as tolerable. Behaviors that are normal to some may be viewed as abusive to others, all depending on the societal norms of that particular country.
Asian parenting perspectives, specifically, hold different ideals from American culture. Many have described their traditions as including physical and emotional closeness that ensures a lifelong bond between parent and child, as well as establishing parental authority and child obedience through harsh discipline. Balancing disciplinary responsibilities within parenting is common in many Asian cultures, including China, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and Korea. To some cultures, forceful parenting may be seen as abuse, but in other societies such as these, the use of force is looked at as a reflection of parental devotion.
The differences in these cultural beliefs demonstrate the importance of examining all cross-cultural perspectives when studying the concept of child abuse.
As of 2006[update], between 25,000 and 50,000 children in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, had been accused of witchcraft and abandoned. In Malawi it is also common practice to accuse children of witchcraft and many children have been abandoned, abused and even killed as a result. In the Nigeria, Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State about 15,000 children were branded as witches.
In April 2015, public broadcasting showed that rate of child abuse in South Korea had increased to 13% compared with the previous year, and 75% of attackers were the children's own parents.
Disclosure and diagnosis
Suspicion for physical abuse is recommended when an injury occurs in a child who does not yet move independently, injuries are in unusual areas, more than one injury at different stages of healing, symptoms of possible head trauma, and injuries to more than one body system.
In many jurisdictions, abuse that is suspected, not necessarily proven, requires reporting to child protection agencies, such as the Child Protection Services in the United States. Recommendations for healthcare workers, such as primary care providers and nurses, who are often suited to encounter suspected abuse are advised to firstly determine the child’s immediate need for safety. A private environment away from suspected abusers is desired for interviewing and examining. Leading statements that can distort the story are avoided. As disclosing abuse can be distressing and sometimes even shameful, reassuring the child that he or she has done the right thing by telling and that they are not bad or that the abuse was not their fault helps in disclosing more information. Dolls are sometimes used to help explain what happened. For the suspected abusers, it is also recommended to use a nonjudgmental, nonthreatening attitude towards them and to withhold expressing shock, in order to help disclose information.
A key part of child abuse work is assessment.
A particular challenge arises where child protection professionals are assessing families where neglect is occurring. Professionals conducting assessments of families where neglect is taking place are said to sometimes make the following errors:
- Failure to ask the right types of question, including
- Whether neglect is occurring;
- Why neglect is occurring;
- What the situation is like for the child;
- Whether improvements in the family are likely to be sustained;
- What needs to be done to ensure the long-term safety of the child?
A support-group structure is needed to reinforce parenting skills and closely monitor the child's well-being. Visiting home nurse or social-worker visits are also required to observe and evaluate the progress of the child and the caretaking situation.
The support-group structure and visiting home nurse or social-worker visits are not mutually exclusive. Many studies have demonstrated that the two measures must be coupled together for the best possible outcome.
Children's school programs regarding "good touch … bad touch" can provide children with a forum in which to role-play and learn to avoid potentially harmful scenarios. Pediatricians can help identify children at risk of maltreatment and intervene with the aid of a social worker or provide access to treatment that addresses potential risk factors such as maternal depression. Videoconferencing has also been used to diagnose child abuse in remote emergency departments and clinics. Unintended conception increases the risk of subsequent child abuse, and large family size increases the risk of child neglect. Thus, a comprehensive study for the National Academy of Sciences concluded that affordable contraceptive services should form the basis for child abuse prevention. "The starting point for effective child abuse programming is pregnancy planning," according to an analysis for US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States since 1983. U.S. President Barack Obama continued that tradition by declaring April 2009 Child Abuse Prevention Month. One way the Federal government of the United States provides funding for child-abuse prevention is through Community-Based Grants for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (CBCAP).
Resources for child-protection services are sometimes limited. According to Hosin (2007), "a considerable number of traumatized abused children do not gain access to protective child-protection strategies." Briere (1992) argues that only when "lower-level violence" of children[clarification needed] ceases to be culturally tolerated will there be changes in the victimization and police protection of children.
A number of treatments are available to victims of child abuse. However, children who experience childhood trauma do not heal from abuse easily. There are focused cognitive behavioral therapy, first developed to treat sexually abused children, is now used for victims of any kind of trauma. It targets trauma-related symptoms in children including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression and anxiety. It also includes a component for non-offending parents. Several studies have found that sexually abused children undergoing TF-CBT improved more than children undergoing certain other therapies. Data on the effects of TF-CBT for children who experienced only non-sexual abuse was not available as of 2006[update]. The purpose of dealing with the thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma is to deal with nightmares, flashbacks and other intrusive experiences that might be spontaneously brought on by any number of discriminative stimuli in the environment or in the individual’s brain. This would aid the individual in becoming less fearful of specific stimuli that would arouse debilitating fear, anger, sadness or other negative emotion. In other words, the individual would have some control or mastery over those emotions.
Abuse-focused cognitive behavioral therapy was designed for children who have experienced physical abuse. It targets externalizing behaviors and strengthens prosocial behaviors. Offending parents are included in the treatment, to improve parenting skills/practices. It is supported by one randomized study.
Rational Cognitive Emotive Behavior Therapy consists of ten distinct but interdependent steps. These steps fall into one of three theoretical orientations (i.e., rational or solution focused, cognitive emotive, and behavioral) and are intended to provide abused children and their adoptive parents with positive behavior change, corrective interpersonal skills, and greater control over themselves and their relationships. They are: 1) determining and normalizing thinking and behaving, 2) evaluating language, 3) shifting attention away from problem talk 4) describing times when the attachment problem isn't happening, 5) focusing on how family members "successfully" solve problematic attachment behavior; 6) acknowledging "unpleasant emotions" (i.e., angry, sad, scared) underlying negative interactional patterns, 7) identifying antecedents (controlling conditions) and associated negative cognitive emotive connections in behavior (reciprocal role of thought and emotion in behavioral causation), 8) encouraging previously abused children to experience or "own" negative thoughts and associated aversive emotional feelings, 9) modeling and rewarding positive behavior change (with themselves and in relationships), and 10) encouraging and rewarding thinking and behaving differently. This type of therapy shifts victims thoughts away from the bad and changes their behavior.
Parent–child interaction therapy was designed to improve the child-parent relationship following the experience of domestic violence. It targets trauma-related symptoms in infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, including PTSD, aggression, defiance, and anxiety. It is supported by two studies of one sample.
Other forms of treatment include group therapy, play therapy, and art therapy. Each of these types of treatment can be used to better assist the client, depending on the form of abuse they have experienced. Play therapy and art therapy are ways to get children more comfortable with therapy by working on something that they enjoy (coloring, drawing, painting, etc.). The design of a child's artwork can be a symbolic representation of what they are feeling, relationships with friends or family, and more. Being able to discuss and analyze a child's artwork can allow a professional to get a better insight of the child.
Child abuse is complex and difficult to study. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), estimates of the rates of child maltreatment vary widely by country, depending on how child maltreatment is defined, the type of maltreatment studied, the scope and quality of data gathered, and the scope and quality of surveys that ask for self-reports from victims, parents, and caregivers. Despite these limitations, international studies show that a quarter of all adults report experiencing physical abuse as children, and that and 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men report experiencing childhood sexual abuse. Emotional abuse and neglect are also common childhood experiences.
As of 2014[update], an estimated 41,000 children under 15 are victims of homicide each year. The WHO states that this number underestimates the true extent of child homicide; a significant proportion of child deaths caused by maltreatment are incorrectly attributed to unrelated factors such as falls, burns, and drowning. Also, girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation and abuse in situations of armed conflict and refugee settings, whether by combatants, security forces, community members, aid workers, or others.
The National Research Council wrote in 1993 that "...the available evidence suggests that child abuse and neglect is an important, prevalent problem in the United States [...] Child abuse and neglect are particularly important compared with other critical childhood problems because they are often directly associated with adverse physical and mental health consequences in children and families".:6
In 2012, Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies estimated that approximately 9 out of 1000 children in the United States were victims of child maltreatment. Most (78%) were victims of neglect. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, and other types of maltreatment, were less common, making up 18%, 9%, and 11% of cases, respectively ("other types" included emotional abuse, parental substance abuse, and inadequate supervision). However, CPS reports may underestimate the true scope of child maltreatment. A non-CPS study estimated that one in four children experience some form of maltreatment in their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In Feb 2017, American Public Health Association published a Washington University study estimating 37% of American children experiencing a child protective services investigation by age 18 (or 53% if African American).
David Finkelhor tracked Child Maltreatment Report (NCANDS) data from 1990 to 2010. He states that sexual abuse had declined 62% from 1992 to 2009. The long-term trend for physical abuse was also down by 56% since 1992. The decline in sexual abuse adds to an already substantial positive long-term trend. He states: "It is unfortunate that information about the trends in child maltreatment are not better publicized and more widely known. The long-term decline in sexual and physical abuse may have important implications for public policy."
Douglas J. Besharov, the first Director of the U.S. Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, states "the existing laws are often vague and overly broad" and there is a "lack of consensus among professionals and Child Protective Services