Over the recent years there has been a steep surge in Child abuse. Some people assume there has only been an uptick in reporting. Whatever may be the case, as a parent it makes me extremely uneasy to look at the statistics of Child Abuse in our country.
While child abuse has consistently increased over the years, there is yet little formal information on the topic. Most people would attribute child abuse to sexual abuse. The latter certainly contributes to child abuse, but it is not the only form of abuse children face. Bullying, grooming are also part of child abuse.
Thus, it is imperative to understand all the forms in which child abuse manifests itself. A deep understanding of child abuse can help you keep not only your children but many others safe as well.
What is Child Abuse?
Child Abuse is an action caused by a caregiver, parent or any other person that causes serious harm to the child under the age of eighteen years. It includes physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, online abuse, bullying and neglect.
According to the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, child abuse refers to intended, unintended, perceived habitual or not habitual mistreatment of a child by a person responsible for child welfare . This includes:
If the caregiver found to exploit children (under 18years) within this framework, it is recognized as Child Abuse. While the above definition of Child Abuse covers most roles it misses out on online abuse which our children might face.
Intentional, non-accidental hurting a child physically is referred to as Physical abuse. It includes hitting, kicking, burning, punching, shaking or bruising a child.
An individual physically abusing a child will generally show signs of:
- Over-discipline and control;
- Face financial/emotional problems;
- Have been abused as child;
- Have behavioral problems like rage; and
- Health problems.
The worst part of this abuse is that it often goes un-noticed. Within the traditional Indian family hierarchy, children are powerless and have few means to resists physical abuse.
Recently, there have been many cases of physical abuse at day-care centers and by nannies/caretakers. Thus, it is must for parents to learn to learn to identify the fine line separating growing-up injuries with abuse.
A child who is suffering from physical abuse will show:
- A pattern of abuse;
- Frequent bruises or burns; and
- Inability to explain the cause of injury convincingly.
Children who suffer from physical abuse continue to suffer later in their lives. They develop poor self-esteem, anxiety and eating disorders, depression, substance abuse to name a few. Such children also are likely to meddle with law and fair poorly at school.
Psychological/ Mental/Emotional Abuse
An enduring maltreatment of child resulting in mental trauma or serious cognitive, emotional or behavioral agony is defined as Psychological or Emotional or Verbal or Mental abuse.
This form of abuse includes:
- Abusive, humiliating or derogatory language for the child;
- Emotionally blackmailing/ manipulating the child;
- Frightening the child to silence their opinion;
- Shunning child’s self-expression;
- Limiting their social interaction;
- Scapegoating/blaming child;
- Being emotionally unavailable
- Threatening/terrorizing; and
- Extreme punishments like locking in room for long durations and taking away basic necessities like food.
Most of the times, children suffering from emotional abuse also suffer from other forms of abuse as well. More than often, it is a family member who emotionally abuses a child. Such people generally face:
- Financial problems
- High stress and tension
- Drug/Substance abuse.
In many cases, parents/caregivers are also guilty of emotional abuse. They fail to emotionally connect with the child. Unable to understand their children and their behaviors, they resort to shouting and emotionally abusing them.
With no physical signs to identify it, Emotional abuse is hard to spot. But if you are careful you can spots the signs of emotional abuse with relative ease. These abusers try to create a belief in the child that he/she is not loved by his/her parents.
Young children who are emotionally abused are likely to be:
- Over affectionate to strangers;
- Scared and anxious around their abuser;
- Disconnected with parents;
- Mean with their friends; and
- Cruel to animals.
With the older children, however, the signs are quite different. They may show some or all of the below clues:
- Aloof and have few friends;
- Lack emotional acumen and control;
- Isolated from parents/caregivers;
- Deficit social skills; and
- Exhibit signs of depression and anxiety.
Bullying can be defined as hurtful behavior that can be either physical or emotional or both. Our strenuous education system, both at school and college level, has lead to bullying becoming a top worry for parents.
- Name Calling and teasing;
- Physical abuse like hitting, shoving or punching;
- Emotional abuse like humiliating, threatening;
- Signing using hands or texts or messages to humiliate and embarrass;
- Online bullying.
Most of the times, children face bullying at school or at playgroups. Children who bully their peers are often emotionally abused themselves. Some of their common traits are:
- Need for control;
- Desire to be popular; and
- Poor grades.
If your child is bullied, they may show the following signs:
- Reluctance to go to school;
- Eating or sleeping problems;
- Drop in grades and interests;
- Coming home hungry everyday;
- Unexplained loss of belongings; and
- Nervousness, lack of confidence and withdrawal.
How to Prevent Bullying?
It is extremely important that parents monitor these signs even in young children. If you think that your child is being bullied at school, you need to contact the school authorities and share your concern.
Talk calmly with your child and try to get to the root of the problem. Help her relax and teach her ways to combat bullying like asking teacher for help, interacting with other fellow students and making new friends.
For older kids, watch out signs of cyber bullying as well. Cyber bullying is a worse form of bullying, which makes children being bullied feel alone and cornered. Since it occurs irrespective of the place, cyber bullying can be really daunting leaving no safe place for the child.
To prevent it, you must discuss the rules of online safety and teach your children how to edit/delete post, block users and keep their information private. Another essential thing to discuss is the use of applications like Snapchat, Instagram, Kik etc which are popular among tweens and teenagers. Children should understand what and how much information to share online.
Child Sexual abuse is defined as engaging a child in an activity which has a sexual context or leads to sexual gratification of the person engaging the child.
Children, by their nature, cannot consent for sexual activities and do not have an appropriate, mature understanding of the subject. Hence, any act including non-touch acts like pornography, indecent exposure and touch acts contribute to sexual abuse.
According to Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POSCO), all children under 18 years of age receive protection under the law for the following:
Non-touch based abuse like:
- Encouraging child to witness or hear sexual acts/ pornography;
- Showing explicit images to child;
- Reading or encouraging child to read sexual text;
- Undressing in front of the child to expose genitals and/or encouraging the child to do the same;
- Sexually exploiting children for pornography, prostitution;
- Forcing children in pornographic performances with another person;
- Making or help someone else make inappropriate pictures of the child with a sexual intent; and
- Distributing obscene representation of a child through print, electronic or digital media.
Touch based abuse including:
- Touching child’s or own genitalia in front of them in an explicit, sexual manner;
- Touching/penetrating child’s genitals with an object;
- Persuading a child to touch their own genitals or abuser’s genitals;
- Fondling a child or persuading him to fondle the abuser;
- Penetrative and non-penetrative sexual acts; and
- Marrying a minor or forcing marriage between two minors.
Children suffering from sexual abuse often go through mental and physical abuse as well. The signs of sexual abuse are not hard to spot. Children who are sexually exploited show the following signs:
- Avoid meeting or being alone with family members/friends;
- Scared or frightened around certain people;
- Changed behavior around the abuser;
- Sudden withdrawal/inability to socialize and interact;
- Have knowledge or use sexual language which is beyond their age;
- Take interest in sexually graphic or text material which is developmentally inappropriate for them;
- Soreness/pain around genitals;
- Unusual discharge; and
- Sexually Transmitted infections
How to Prevent Sexual Abuse
What is necessary for parents to understand in the case of sexual abuse is that the perpetrator in most cases is a trusted person. Contrary to using the word ‘Stranger’, you should emphasize on the word ‘Tricky Person’.
Teach your child from an early age about gender awareness and that they are not allowed to undress in front of anyone except their parents. And if at all need be, like in case of preschoolers and kindergarteners, the care takers are not supposed to touch their private parts.
Imbibing ‘I am the Master of my Body’ philosophy helps children build confidence. Remember, abusers look for weaknesses and will refrain from a child who is emotionally well-connected to his parents.
Build an open relationship based on mutual trust and telling your children that you will always trust them can really save them from sexual abuse.
This is an emerging threat that faces young children and people who have digital identities. Grooming is an act of winning the trust of a child and establishing an emotional connection with him/her for the purpose of sexual exploitation, trafficking or sexual abuse.
Since this generation of children will be the first to grow in the presence of internet and smartphones, it is crucial that you understand this form of abuse.
In most cases, grooming happens online. It is easier to fake identity and groom in a digital world. The scariest part of grooming is that young children and people fail to understand that they have been groomed. Hence, they continue to trust their abusers.
A child who has been groomed may act in the following ways:
- Maintain secrecy around their online friends and what they do online;
- Go to unusual places to meet their friends;
- Refrain from calling their so called close friends home;
- Have deep friendships with older children or young people;
- Possess new clothes, items of interest or mobiles which have not been purchased by parents/caretakers;
- Have knowledge or use sexual language which is beyond their age;
- Exhibit sudden, unexplained behavioral changes; and
- Get involved in drug/substance abuse.
What is really surprising about grooming is that the groomers sometimes do not even need to meet the child to abuse them. Much of the abuse can be carried out online. Like by persuading them to take part in online sexual activity, posting their inappropriate pictures and sexting.
While POSCO covers most of the aspect of child sexual abuse, it needs to address the growing concern around child grooming. As a parent you must educate yourself and understand how grooming takes place.
A groomer generally reaches out to many children by texting them on social media websites, online gaming platforms and instant messaging or picture sharing apps. Once they receive a revert, they start digging into the child’s profile and interests.
Some of the common tactics groomers use to gain trust and establish connection are:
- Giving attention to the child;
- Offering advice and understanding;
- Buying presents; and
- Offering to take them on day-trips or lunch dates.
Once groomers gain trust, the vicious cycle of abuse can start which may include threatening, intimidating and blackmailing children to prevent them from telling anyone about the abuse.
The easiest way to prevent grooming is to educate your children about online safety, what can be shared online and how much information to divulge.
Sit together and discuss the apps and platforms your child would like to use with her/him. Talk about how you would be there to help if anything makes them uncomfortable online. And realistically accept that your child might visit websites you both had agreed not to.
How to Prevent Child Abuse?
The first and foremost step towards preventing child abuse is learning to recognize its signs. Oftentimes, it is more than one form of abuse that the child experiences. What might start as emotional abuse may gradually progress to sexual or physical abuse. Hence, it is necessary to identify the initial signs of abuse and stop it from progressing.
1. Build Confidence and Trust: Confidence and trust are foundations for every relationship. Build on these cornerstones from very beginning.
Show confidence and trust in your child and avoid over-reacting on their mistakes. Be explicit and tell them that you trust what the say and you will always stand by their side.
2. Give them Emotional Security: Often abusers scare children and force them to keep quiet about abuse by telling them that this will make their parents sad. In some cases, they even threaten dire consequences for parents like harming their parents if they divulge.
Assure your children that you are old enough to handle such situations and no one can harm them. This emotional security would ease their fears and help them open up about the abuse if they are being threatened.
3. No Secrets: It is essential that parents insists on children to not keep any secrets from them, whatever it may be. Stress on the fact that no adult with good intentions will ever ask them to keep secret from their parents.
4. Body Safety: Children as young as 2.5years old should be taught about body safety. Teaching about body safety is not as tricky as it seems. Simply stating them that nobody can touch them on the parts covered by their under-garments is often enough.
Emphasize that no one, including their parents, can touch their private parts except when cleaning them. In the same way, no one can kiss them on their mouth. Teach them to say ‘No’ to any such person and tell about the incident to their trusted person
Besides keeping body safe, children should be taught to say ‘NO’ to any touch they do not find good. If they are uncomfortable or do not approve of the touch, they should ask the doer to stop it.
Modeling this behavior and respecting their choice at home builds confidence. Give them the right to say NO to your hugs and kisses when they do not want them. This is the first step towards building their confidence.
5. Teach your children about Tricky Person: Most child abusers are known to the family and child. They are either relatives or close family friends. So teaching children ‘Stranger Danger’ in not enough.
Add ‘Tricky’ person to the equation. A tricky person can be anyone known to the family or a relative who does not respect the child’s body, hits/screams at them or asks them to hide things from their parents.
6. Interact with their friends: Make sure that you talk and interact with your child’s friends and their parents. This would help you understand the school dynamics and gauge if your child is facing any issues at school like bullying, teasing etc.
Interacting with your child’s friends also give you insights about the emotional and developmental stage your child is going through. Thus, helping you compare their behavior against the standard behavior of other children.
7. Set a designated time chat: Setting a designated time to talk with your children fosters emotional bonding and trust. Keep this time sacred and choose to listen to your children. Allow them to lead the conversation.
Keep your judgments and advise aside. This will help your children to open up with you and discuss everything and anything without fear. Try not to get offended on their blunders. At this time, be a listener and a gentle guide.
8. Set up their Safety Circle: Help your children identify safe people. You may not be always available when your child needs you. Making a list of people they can reach to, at home and at school, in your absence is imperative.
That’s when this safety net can help your child. For instance, teach them to approach their class teacher or headmistress if they feel uncomfortable around someone.
9. Teach them about online safety: Treat online safety with the same gravity as child abuse. Our children will be greatly impacted by digital technology. So it is obvious to teach them about being safe online.
One important aspect of keeping children safe online is teaching them early on the difference between real identity and online identity. For instance, a 25year old man can pretend to be a 15year old girl online. It is easy to fake identity online. Hence, it only prudent not to place trust on people they meet online.
Second important thing to remember is what to share online. Children as well as adults should refrain from sharing pictures, personal details and contact information online with strangers. A seemingly harmless picture can be easily photoshoped into an offensive image.
An important aspect on digital safety lies with parents. Parents need to model the correct behavior themselves. A parent himself obsessed with selfies and snapchat can say little about the perils of digital world. Besides this, parents need to monitor parental controls, monitor internet use and guide children about the apps they can use.
10. Teach them to say ‘NO’: Teaching your children to say ‘No’ can save them a lot of trouble. Encourage them to be assertive and say ‘No’ to things they do not feel comfortable about. Many a times, children bow down to peer pressure and make wrong choices.
Teach them how they can say ‘No’ and still be part of their friend’s group. Parents have to walk a tight rope in keeping their children safe and not limiting their freedom. One thing that can really help is the bond of trust and understanding.
As a parent you must learn when to be firm, how to react on mistakes children make while growing up and how to keep the communication channel open and healthy at all times.
A great way to foster bonding and teaching about safety is through books and online videos. Reading books about safety, sharing resources and appropriate news from time to time can engrain safety measures in children’s minds without instilling unnecessary fear.
Remember, Child Abuse is preventable!