This article is Part I of the two-part blog piece on Child Abuse. This part gives an introduction to identifying signs of child abuse, while the second part discusses the ways in which parents and teachers can tackle child abuse.
“My stomach hurts” │“I have a headache” │“I don’t want to meet that relative”
“There is a boogeyman at school” │ “I don’t like the teacher” │“I am scared”
Such statements, when proffered by a child, are generally brushed aside as excuses and the reason behind them is never explored. Most parents, guardians and siblings mistake these excuses to be born out of a child’s laziness, wish to stay home, play or maybe sleep a little extra. However, there might be some other serious reasons why a child might want to avoid a particular place or person. One of the often-ignored reasons might be the physical, psychological, or sexual harm that the child experiences at these places or at the hands of such persons. Through these statements, the child might be hinting at a possible bully problem, harassment by the staff at school or any other child abuse situations. The identification of these plausible problems at an early age is crucial because they can have serious negative effects on a child’s physical as well as mental health. A child’s right to have access to education and a healthy environment are also grossly affected by such abuse.
One of the most effective ways to tackle this problem, as mentioned above, is to identify the signs of abuse. Sometimes, sudden decline in academic performance might be an indicator of consistent abuse. The caretakers need to keep such possibilities in mind and should take note of such behavioral changes. Once these signs are noticed, there should be no delay in confronting such abuse of children at school or even inside the household. In most child sexual abuse cases, perpetrators are close relatives, family friends or caretakers of the victim (approximately 60% cases). About 90% of the victims of child sexual abuse personally know their abuser and only in a meagre percent of cases the abuser is a stranger. These statistics make it even more imperative that as soon as signs of abuse are identified, even when the parents/guardians are not sure, quick action should be taken to enquire and prevent such abuse. Even though communicating with a child is a sensitive matter, it is one of the most important parts at this stage. Developing good communication with the child goes a long way in nipping the cases of abuse at the bud without much substantial harm being caused to the child.
A child’s right to education forms a seminal right. For a child to be able to learn and enjoy the development process there should be a safe and stress-free environment. In such a case, if educational institutions end up being sites of child abuse then it forms a major impediment in learning process of the child. Identifying any behavioural changes or specific reluctance/refusal of going to school might help identify any possible cases of child abuse at school. Educating the child about ‘bad touch’ and ‘special places on their body’ goes a long way in ensuring a safer environment for the children. One more crucial aspect is developing good communication with the child so that the child feels comfortable to reach out to the parents or guardians if it experiences some kind of abuse or even finds some actions of particular persons seem odd.
Ensuring child safety is not just the responsibility of parents or guardians. As schools constitute place where children spend majority of their time at, they also play a major role in identifying and tackling with child abuse of any form. Schools can play an important role specially in situations where parents might be the perpetrators. In these cases, teachers have the task of identifying the signs of domestic abuse. The negligence or lack of care towards a child should be identified as soon as possible by the teachers and should be brought to the notice of the administration. Some signs which might help in identification are bruises on child’s body, child falling asleep during class hours, weakness, malnourishment, and in cases of sexual abuse—difficulty in sitting, rectal bleeding, oral bruises, ulcers etcetera. Speaking to parents or guardians regarding the same can help tackle the problem to a certain extent.
Unfortunately, in India, child security services are not as developed as in countries like USA and Canada. Government child protection services like ICPS and UNICEF are actively working towards increasing child security and so are some NGOs. However, active participation by the state via such services can rarely be seen. There are barely any records of cases in which the government agencies were successful in protecting children from abusive environment and there are no specific teams assigned for fieldwork, which assert their presence. Due to the lack of publicity and media coverage, even the public is not aware of the existence of such services by the government. In such circumstances, it becomes difficult for the outsiders to understand the way which they can help protect the children from any kind of abuse. NGOs or child help organizations can help in these cases. Government should take notice of these concerns of growing validity and importance. It is the duty of the State to improve and publicize the child protection services.
We, as a society, are responsible to inculcate a safer environment for every child. To live in a safe and secure environment is a right of the child and nobody has the authority to take it away by any means in any situation.
[This is a two-part blog. The second part discusses the ways to comfort the victims of child abuse and educate parents, guardians and teachers on the ways to tackle child abuse.]