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Child abuse is not just bruises and broken limbs. It is the mistreatment of children physically, emotionally, or sexually. Mistreatment amounts to any act by a caregiver that is harmful, or potentially harmful to the well being of the child. Ignoring the needs of children, leaving them unsupervised in hazardous environments or making them feel worthless also amounts to child abuse. Child abuse occurs mostly at home and a few instances at school and other places where the child interacts. Though abuse by strangers has been reported, most abuses are inflicted by family members. These are people the child is very familiar with and would not expect to be harmed by. Child abuse is sometimes disguised. In this case the abuser may have been abused as a child and for this reason they may not know any other way to parent. An analysis as to the forms and causes of child abuse has been carried here-in with various ways of handling such cases having been proposed.
Child abuse can be broadly classified as physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and neglect. Physical abuse is physical assault conducted by an adult and directed towards a child. Such acts like slapping, kicking, punching, shoving or pulling a child’s ears to more serious ones such as burning, choking or bruising are considered as child abuse (Saisa). Laws in most nations consider the infliction of injuries or actions that endanger the life of a child as illegal. However, these laws vary past this agreeable platform. Different countries have different cultural norms. These cultural norms dictate the distinction between child disciplining and what amounts to child abuse. Some countries accept the use of force as a way to discipline children while others dispute this.
Child sexual abuse is the kind of child abuse where an adult abuses a child for sexual stimulation or to attain sexual ends. These includes engaging in sexual activities with a minor be it voluntary or by force, indecent exposé of the genitals to a child, showing pornography to a child, actual sex with a child, having physical contact or viewing areas considered private such as the child's genitals, or the use of children in the production of pornography or obscene content. Most sexual abusers are people the child is well familiar with, e.g. family members, family friend, neighbours or babysitters. However, emotional abuse is the most outstanding form of child abuse. This might include but not limited to the following: extreme criticisms, denying a child a channel of communication, routine labelling, name-calling, placing too many demands that cannot be met or which might be inappropriate, humiliation and the destruction of any personal property.
Child neglect is the failure of a person who is responsible for a child’s care and upbringing to protect the child’s emotional and physical health and general well-being. It is a pattern of failing to provide for a child's basic needs, whether it be clothing, adequate food, hygiene, or supervision. Child neglect is not easily noticed. Sometimes, a parent might be physically or mentally incapable to care for a child. For instance, if such a parent has a serious injury, suffers depression, or fretfulness. Again, alcohol or drug abuse may seriously disable a parent’s judgment and their ability to keep a child out of danger. Older children usually do not show outward signs of neglect. They develop a competent face that they present to the outside world. They even take on the role of the parent in severe cases. But at the end of the day, neglected children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met (Child Abuse and Neglect).
Child abuse is a multifaceted phenomenon with various causes. It is imperative to understand the causes leading to child abuse so as to aptly address this issue. For instance, parents who physically fight in their home are more prone than others to physically abuse their children. It is not possible to clearly identify whether marital discord is a cause of child abuse however. Substance abuse has been found to be a major contributing factor to increasingly many cases of child abuse. Parents with documented substance abuse are more probable to ill-treat their children. Unemployment and financial difficulties are said to increase stress in the family setting resulting into violent reactions to children’s innocent demands. However, the causes as to child abuse cannot be limited to these factors and there is therefore a need to conduct an intense interview of the child so as to establish the cause.
Children who have been neglected or physically abused are at higher risk of developing mental problems. Several developmental problems in a child’s early life stages can lead to disorganized attachment which include dissociative symptoms, as well as fretfulness, depressive, and acting out symptoms. When some of these children grow up into parents, above all if they experienced the outcomes of child abuse, they may find it difficult when faced with their infants’ needs and normative suffering, which may in turn lead to unfavourable outcomes for their child's social and emotional growth. Physical health problems manifest the lives of victims of childhood abuse later in life. Some do suffer from some type of chronic pain in the head, the pelvis or muscles with no identifiable reason. There is a variation of the effects of child abuse, which depend on the kind of abuse. Childhood emotional and sexual abuse has been largely associated with multiple adult depressive symptoms, while verbal abuse and being a witness to domestic violence are well related. More than two types of abuse are strong enough to course depression. Sexual abuse is principally detrimental in its interfamilial form. It causes depression, touchiness, anxiety and dissociation. Childhood verbal abuse leads to anger and hostility than any other kind of abuse.
The immediate physical effects resultant from child abuse or neglect may be relatively minor and range to more serious ones such as bruises and cuts or severe haemorrhage, broken bones, or even death. In some cases the physical effects are impermanent. However, the pain and distress they cause to the child cannot be discounted. The long-term effects are however severe and include the following: Of chief concern is the shaken baby syndrome. This is a common form of child abuse whose injuries are at first not easily noticeable such as bleeding in the eye or in the brain which may progress to such serious situations such as damage to the neck and the spinal cord or fractures on the ribs and other vital bones (Jenny, p. 23-45). Further, children may end up with an impaired brain development condition. This eventually leads to problems in verbal communication and the intellectual capacity of the victim. Further, the cognitive capability of the child may be compromised. However, physical injuries resultant from child abuse may be short-lived whereas the socio-psychological aspect may last a lifetime. As depicted by Wolfe “The psychological impact of maltreatment is difficult to define, but it has the potential to harm the child in many ways over and beyond the effect of physical injuries.”(p. 7)
There are a number of treatments available for victims of such abuse. Trauma, which has long being associated with victims of child abuse, can be treated via cognitive behavioural therapy which centres on sexual abuse but can be adopted for any sort of trauma. Such effects associated with trauma that can be eradicated are clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety while further guiding the parent on how to handle the child henceforth to avoid further abuse. Secondly, cognitive behaviour therapy can be used for victims who have undergone physical abuse. By strengthening pro-social behaviours though targeting not only the victims themselves but also the offending parents, the therapy is able to avoid any further abuse.
Thirdly, in case of domestic violence, child-parent psychotherapy could be essentially applied to treat such victims by focusing on all related trauma and the associated symptoms in infants or preschoolers such as anxiety, defiance, PTSD and aggression (Sullivan & Vulliamy, p. 1461). This has been termed as highly successful and has been supported by a number of studies. Finally, other forms of treatment cannot be ignored. These are play, group and art therapies. These are essential and easier to use since they get the child to take part in something of interest to them such as drawing, colouring and painting. Children’s feelings, thoughts or experiences can easily be deciphered from their work be it on family, friends or relationships with others. This information is crucial in attending to such cases.
In conclusion, there is not only a need to tackle all emerging child abuse cases but also to handle cases that occurred in the past so as to aid such victims o have a better life through various treatments and therapies available. An environment that greatly encourage a pro-social behaviour, in which both parents and children alike can express their frustrations in their respective parent-child relationships is vital so as to ensure that cases of child abuse abate in the future.