Child maltreatment is abuse to children under 18 years of age by a parent, caregiver, or another person in a custodial role (e.g., clergy, coach, teacher). World Health Organization (WHO) defines child maltreatment as all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results 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. Child maltreatment can be distinguished in to:
Physical abuse, that is intentional use of physical force against a child such as inflicting physical injury by hitting, beating, shaking, biting, scalding, burning, kicking, poisoning and suffocating.
Sexual abuse involves engaging a child in sexual acts. It includes fondling, rape, and exposing a child to other sexual activities.
Emotional and psychological abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being such as name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love, and threatening.
Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care.
Child maltreatment is a global problem with serious life-long consequences. International studies reveal that 20% of women and 5–10% of men report being sexually abused as children, while 25–50% of all children report being physically abused. Additionally, many children are subject to emotional abuse (sometimes referred to as psychological abuse) and to neglect. Every year, there are an estimated 41000 homicide deaths in children below 15 years of age (WHO).
In Asia due to high population density, poverty, illiteracy, caste system and landlessness, lack of economic opportunities, rural-urban migration, population growth, political instability and weak implementation of legal provisions the issues of child labour and child sexual exploitation are high.
According to the 2011 Census, some 470 million people in the country are aged below eighteen years and constitute 41 percent of India's total population. Problem of child abuse is prevalent in India as in many other countries and there was a need to understand its dimensions and complexities. Study on child abuse: India 2005*, was conducted by Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India. In the study group physical abuse was found in 69% of child respondents, sexual abuse in 53% children and emotional abuse in 48% children.
(*child abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse and girl child neglect in five different evidence groups-children in a family environment, children in school, children at work, children on the street and children in institutions).
Now that the scale and impact of all forms of violence against children is becoming better known, children must be provided with the effective prevention and protection to which they have an unqualified right.
Specific signs and symptoms depend on the type of abuse and can vary. Symptoms can be physical, psychological, or both.
Children who are sexually abused may:
If a child looks or acts as older than their age or, a child develops more slowly than others of similar age with no physical or learning disability this could be cause of concern.
Along with physical signs certain general symptoms may be:
Withdrawn, behave differently, anxious, depressed, problem sleeping, eating disorders, wets the bed, soil the clothes, take risks, misses school, changing in eating habits, obsessive behavior, nightmares ,drug and alcohol misuse.
Some factors can increase the risk for abuse or neglect. The presence of these factors does not always mean that maltreatment will occur.
Risk factors for victimization: Child
Risk Factors for Perpetration:
Individual Risk Factors: Parent or caregiver
Family environment: Relationship difficulties within families or among intimate partners, friends and peers may increase the risk of child maltreatment. These include:
Community and societal factors: A number of characteristics of communities and societies may increase the risk of child maltreatment. These include:
If there is suspicion of child abuse a detailed account of the events leading to the injury should be obtained and documented. The child should be fully undressed, and the whole body should be examined thoroughly, including the anogenital region. The growth parameters should also be measured. Child abuse may be suspected when-
The following tests can reveal type of injuries-
If child abuse is suspected, report it immediately to concerned person.
Early detection of child maltreatment and early intervention can help to minimize the likelihood of further violence and the long-term health and social consequences.
Medical management can range from inpatient care to outpatient treatment with close follow-up by a physician, a social worker, and child protective services.
Child maltreatment causes suffering to children and families and can have long-term consequences. As adults, maltreated children are at increased risk for behavioural, physical and mental health problems such as:
Maltreatment through these behavioural and mental health consequences can contribute to heart disease, cancer, suicide and sexually transmitted infections along with an individual and social economic impact.
Child abuse and neglect is one of the nation’s most serious concerns. The ultimate goal is to stop child maltreatment before it starts. Strategies that promote safe, stable, and nurturing relationships (SSNRs) and environments for children and families are key factors to protecting against maltreatment and other harmful childhood experiences. However, community /schools/ institutions are also responsible for the care and protection of children. The prevention strategies for child abuse include multi-component interventions:
Protective factors for children-
Family protective factors-
Community protective factors-
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) under the administrative control of the Ministry of Women & Child Development (MWCD), Government of India visualises a rights-based perspective for protection of all children in the 0 to 18 years age group flowing into National Policies and Programmes.
Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) - It is a centrally sponsored scheme of MWCD aimed to bring several existing child protection programmes under one umbrella with improved norms. It is based on the cardinal principles of protection of child rights and the best interest of the child.
To know more about cyber safety, read ‘A Handbook for Adolescents/Students on Cyber Safety’ published by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, click the links below.