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Child Abuse: The Evil Lurking Behind Every Door


R is a 12 yr. old girl. She is a brilliant student, is part of her school’s choir, enjoys movies and is crazy about music. At home, her parents dote on her; she is the apple of everyone’s eyes. It is time for her favourite festival, and all her relatives and parent’s friends came to visit. A couple of times, her parents left her in trusted company and went around wishing greetings to their acquaintances.  One fine day, her parents noticed that she is not behaving her usual self, her grades have fallen, teachers report her to be unresponsive in the class, and her friends say that she shouts at them all the time. In private, R, cries often and has even thought of committing suicide. What went wrong?

The most heinous thing that a human can ever do is abuse a child. Child abuse is: “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.” Although, there is a lot of hue and cry over child abuse, it is largely restricted to abuse where there is physical contact involved; child abuse is a broad term that encompasses emotional abuse and child neglect as well.

In the example cited above, it seems most likely that R was sexually abused by someone she was fairly familiar with. As per the National Study on Child Abuse (2007), 50 % of the sexual abusers are people known to the child or persons in positions of trust & authority. Further, in India, 2 out of every 3 children are physically abused. Apart from sexual abuse, this also involves a parent hitting their children or corporal punishment at school, all of which can leave scathing marks on the child’s personality.

As parents we often trust our friends and family members with the responsibility to look after our children in our absence, and there is no harm in it. After all, one cannot be paranoid and limit the positive exposure that children will get by being in other’s company. So what can parents or caretakers do to ensure that even in their absence, their children can stay safe? Lets’ look at some options:

  1. Being Supportive: It is imperative that you as a parent are your child’s rock. Abuse or no abuse, if your child trusts that you won’t judge him / her, they will always confide in you. This will keep you aware of what is happening in their world and if ever something as drastic as physical or sexual abuse happens, you will be there to listen and support. Being emotionally unavailable to your children, whether in good or bad times, amounts to emotional abuse. In India, 83 % of our children are subjected to emotional abuse at some point in their lives.
  1. Believe: Most often, when a child reports about an incident of abuse, the parents try to hush it up in order to avoid embarrassment in front of friends or family or worse they either don’t believe it or pretend not to. As parents, you are your child’s only hope after their world has turned upside down, and not trusting them at this crucial moment, only add to the trauma they are experiencing. This can also boost the morale of the abuser. When the perpetrator of the abuse, witnesses that no action is being taken against them, it may give them the courage to repeat the incident with your child or with other children.
  1. Teach: We as teachers or parents teach our children things like table manners, talking to elders, studying, and other things all the time. Teaching about good or bad touch, is as crucial as other life skills. Children and teenagers should know what is appropriate touching and what is not, and why is that so. Children should be made aware about their right to not let anyone touch them, even if that person is the child’s parent. Parents should also respect the child’s right to privacy; asking an 8 yr. old child to change clothes in front of you is not warranted. If you are not comfortable talking about this to your children, then approach a professional. Psychologists and counsellors are trained to talk about sensitive topics to people of all ages.
  1. Availability: There always will be situations when your child is either alone at home or with someone you trust will keep him/her safe. Devise your own way of communicating with your children. What if, you are not at home, and an uncle from the neighbourhood drops by? Should your child open the door and let him in or should the uncle be asked to return only once you are back? Sit down with your children and list down all the possible scenarios that are likely in your absence and how should they deal with those situations.

Some common signs of physical / sexual abuse:

  1. Unexplained injuries or physical signs of abuse often backed by unconvincing explanations about the origin of the injury.
  2. Changes in usual behaviour patterns, sleep and appetite are often the first signs exhibited by an abuse victim.
  3. A fear of going to certain places or going with certain people. Some abuse victims may totally shun members of the opposite sex and display unexplainable behaviour in their company.
  4. Falling grades, reduced attendance and aggressive behaviour at school, are also some commonly signs in abuse victims.
  5. Increase in risk taking behaviours which may also include promiscuous behaviours can be present as a reaction to unaddressed abuse.

The above list is not exhaustive, but merely a glimpse of the various signs of abuse. Some signs are more obvious than others. As parents, trust your instincts. If there is a significant change in the behaviour or emotional state of your children, you should kick into action and find out what is the matter.

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Shobhika Jaju is a NET qualified psychologist who would love to be reborn as a shrink every single time. She is the founder of Silver Linings: Guidance & Counselling Centre, in South Goa, & hence is effectively putting her love for psychotherapy & her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology to good use. Shobhika also works at Little’s School, Fatorda (Goa) & writes for several print and online media on a regular basis. She facilitates workshops on topics promoting personal enhancement & spreading mental health awareness. She is affiliated to the American Psychological Association, Bombay Psychological Association, Goa Psychological Association & the Movement for Global Mental Health. Her website can be accessed at silverliningsgoa.com.


4 thoughts on “Child Abuse: The Evil Lurking Behind Every Door

  1. Kritika Srinivasan

    Thank you Shobhika. This is an important topic on which no amount of discussion is too much. After all, children cannot stop the abuse, only adults can! At ParentEdge, we have focused a lot on the problem of child abuse and you’ll see many blogs on our site on this issue. The Cover Story in the January 2015 issue of the magazine was on Child Abuse and I would encourage every parent to read it – it lists signs of abuse, tips on how to protect your child against abuse, even more important – how to empower them against abuse. What you can do if you suspect your child is being abused, etc. The article has tips and advice from counsellors, social worker and parents as well.

    We also organised an online expert session on Child Abuse in our parenting forum some time ago, anchored by Ratnesh Mathur,Founder of amable. The discussions, questions and answers can be read here: http://parentedge.in/parenting-forum/#scrollback

    Reply
    1. shobhika jaju

      Kritika, you have rightly pointed out that Child abuse is an important topic on which no amount of discussion is enough. We need to spread awareness about this rampant evil across all strata of society and platforms such as Parent Edge are taking a right step forward in doing so. Thanks :)

      Reply
  2. Angela Roeber

    Thank you Shobhika. I work for Project Harmony, a Child Advocacy Center, in Omaha Neb. Below is a press release I recently sent out related to this very topic. Feel free to use/publish – acknowledging Project Harmony.

    Do You Know Who Is Watching Your Baby?
    September is Baby Safety Awareness Month

    Omaha, NE. – September has been designated Baby Safety Month each year with the intention of educating parents and caregivers on safeguarding against hidden hazards in the home. Some of these hazards include loose change on the coffee table, magnets on a refrigerator, and hot mugs. While these are important reminders for the safety of all infants and toddlers, Project Harmony would like to remind new and expecting parents of the importance in thorough background screenings for all childcare providers, including in-home care providers and nannies.

    Thorough background checks are often overlooked, or taken for granted. Parents expect their children to be safe in child care. Child safety is listed as the top indicator that parents look for when choosing a child care provider. But while a safe facility and any safety training and education completed are important, a background check can verify that the person watching your child is trustworthy.

    A background screening is more than just checking a resume or contacting a list of references. A good background check will:
    • Verify name, current address and social security number
    • Search criminal records using the person’s name, aliases or other names in the past, in addition to the maiden name of female applicants.
    • Review the person’s driving record.
    • Check court records.
    • Check national sex offender records.
    • Confirm college or other educational degrees

    Federal law requires that all states have policies in place to protect the health and safety of children in child care programs. Parents should ask if background checks are utilized for all daycare providers/staff (including the director, cooks, volunteers, van drivers, custodians, etc.) and, if so, what type of background check is conducted and how often.

    If hiring a personal nanny and/or babysitter, don’t be afraid to ask for a background check. Any employer would ask, and expect, the same when considering an applicant for hire. There are several background check services to choose from, but eNannySource has been recognized by Business News Daily as the best background check service for household employees based on service and affordability. Packages range from $19 to $89. Reports are provided as a PDF document and are easy to read as well as understand.

    “Keep in mind, having a clean background doesn’t prevent something bad from happening,” says Project Harmony Executive Director Gene Klein. “It does, however, help to lessen the risk of a known criminal having close contact with your child.”

    To learn more about background check regulations in your area, visit ChildCareAware.org.

    ABOUT PROJECT HARMONY
    Project Harmony is a nonprofit, community-based organization that has served more than 25,000 children during the past 19 years by providing a child friendly environment in which specially-trained professionals work together to assess, investigate, and resolve child abuse cases. In one centralized location, Project Harmony co-houses with Omaha Police Department Child Victim/Sexual Assault Unit and Nebraska Health & Human Services/Child Protection Service Initial Assessment and Child Abuse Hotline. Project Harmony exists to protect and support children, collaborate with professionals and engage the community to end child abuse and neglect.

    # # #

    Reply
    1. shobhika jaju

      Thank you for the information Angela. It is heartening to know that people are talking about Child Abuse and taking steps to ensure that our children are protected from opportunists.

      Reply

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