CHILD MALTREATMENT

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The WHO defines child maltreatment as all forms of physical, psychological and/or emotional illtreatment, sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, development or dignity.

The term ‘abuse’ means an injury or an act that can cause injury. Abuse can be –

a) Physical abuse  Hitting a child, pushing, kicking, burning, etc.

b) Sexual abuse  Molestation, intercourse, fondling with a child’s genitals, prostitution, sodomy, etc.

c) Psychological abuse  This includes behaviours that can result in serious psychological disorders; like terrorizing a child, isolating, harsh punishments.

d) Emotional abuse  Acts of constant rejection, depreciating or downgrading, not responding to child’s emotional needs.

These abuses often overlap, for e.g. a case of sexual abuse often also involves physical and psychological abuse.

Neglect is the failure to fulfill the child’s basic needs of food, clothing, sheltereducation etc. Neglect can also be of emotional type. The important thing to discriminate is whether the neglect is willful or whether it is due to poverty or other reasons.

Causes :

In most of the cases child maltreatment occurs in family. Children who are result of an unplanned pregnancy, have disabilities, are difficult to handle, are adopted, are at more risk of maltreatment than others.

Factors like cultural beliefs, economic conditions of the family, employment status of the parent, relationship between the two parents etc. are also known to effect how a child is treated by his caretaker or parent. Certain personality factors and behaviour patterns of the parent increase the risk of maltreatment, like depression, lack of impulse control, lack of empathy, high expectation from the child, lack of social support, being a single parent, low frustration tolerance etc.

Consequences :

Infants and toddlers are at more risk of maltreatment than older kids. These being the developmental years that decide the course of life, the danger of long term damage is more.

The effects of maltreatment can be physical, emotional, psychological, cognitivebehavioral and relational. The effects depend on the age, type/severity of the abuse.

Maltreatment at an early age can result in physical and brain damage that can have significant and irreversible consequences like learning disabilities, blindnessparalysis, mental retardation, etc.

Maltreatment can result in various internalizing and externalizing disorders like depression, anxiety, mood disorders, suicidal thoughts, hyperactivity, attachment problems, etc.

Counseling interventions :

This issue is a major concern and with the increasing number of cases of abuse it is important to plan intervention programs and also pass laws against this act.

At the counseling level, early intervention proves to be really helpful. The first step is to identify the type of abuse and its effect; and the second is to counsel the parents and the child and improve their relationship. The parents need to be taught better parenting skills; anger management. The child needs to be helped to express his emotions, anger, shame, etc. It is important to develop a feel good factor in the child, to enhance his self-esteem, to develop a positive attitude towards world. For parents it is important to teach their kids to express their feelings with them, so that they as a caretaker are aware of what is going on in their child’s life. With the increasing number of cases of child sexual abuse it is important for a parent to give a child a basic sexual education keeping in mind their age, so that a kid can distinguish whether a touch or behaviour is right or wrong.

Children are the future, so if we want a bright future we need to take necessary steps to free our society from this evil act. A parent should remember that children are like wet sand and can be moulded into anything with soft hands (love and care). Discipline is important but one does not need to be harsh to give their child a right direction in life.

          Vidhi Pipara Adolescent Psychologist – Guidance on personal or psychological problems in Ahmedabad,Gujarat and India.

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