By Margarita Nahapetyan
Child abuse is the physical, psychological, social, emotional or sexual maltreatment of children. The CDC defines child maltreatment as any series of acts by a parent or other caregiver resulting in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. There are four main categories of child abuse: physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.
Physical abuse means causing physical harm on a child's body. It includes shaking, choking, biting, kicking or burning a child. It also includes any conduct by a parent or a caregiver that might put the child's life, health or well-being at risk. Very often, the parents are confused thinking that they need to use physical punishment in order to discipline a child. They may feel that whatever they are doing is good for the child. There may be a single time, or repeated injuries such as bruises or welt marks on the child's skin, and because a bruise indicates that the body tissue has been damaged and blood vessels have broken, any discipline method that leaves bruises, by definition is considered physical abuse.
Neglect means abuse by parents which includes not giving the child what they need in order to develop. Parents are neglecting a child when they fail to provide a child's basic needs, such as proper food, shelter, clothing and proper healthcare treatment, as well as emotional needs like attention, care and affection. Neglect also includes failing to make the child go to school, or stopping the child from harming himself or others. A neglected child has poor personal hygiene, lack of clothing, constant hunger, untreated medical conditions, no social relationships and destructive tendencies.
Emotional maltreatment refers to both emotional abuse and emotional neglect. It includes behavior that can harm a child's sense of self-worth, such as insults, verbal threats, social isolation, intimidation, rejection, exploitation, terrorizing, or routinely making unreasonable demands on a child. Usually, emotional abuse is part of a long-term problem which can cause serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders.
In case of sexual abuse, a child usually is being used by an adult for sexual purposes. Sexual maltreatment includes fondling, intercourse, touching of private parts, incest, sodomy, and also non-physical forms of abuse such as commercial exploitation through prostitution, exhibitionism, exposure to pornography and voyeurism. Child sexual abuse is considered as emotionally abusive as well.
In most cases, the abuse happens in a child's home, most often by parents or close relatives, and not strangers. Neglect and mistreatment of children are more common in families living in poverty and among parents who are teenagers or are drug or alcohol addicts. Usually, abused kids are afraid to confess to anyone, because the person who is abusing them is someone who they deeply love. That is why it not always easy to figure out when a child is or has been abused.
Physical, sexual or emotional abuse can cause several problems in the development of a child. The effects of abuse can differ depending on each individual case, which can include a character of a child, their age, the severity and frequency of abuse, child's relationship with the abuser, and the child's ability to deal with the situation.
After some period of time, with proper medical treatment, a child usually recovers from the physical injuries. However, it is not that easy for them to handle long-lasting psychological effects. The majority of abused kids are more likely to develop serious psychiatric problems, as well as mental illnesses. Very often abused children start behaving aggressively and may even become extremely violent or self-destructive. Many suffer from depression, insomnia, eating disorders, fear, shyness, panic attacks, inability to concentrate, and poor relationships with the opposite sex.
Victims of abuse need good care, special support and treatment as early as possible. The longer children are being abused or are left to cope with the problem on their own, the less chances and hope are left for their complete recovery. Child abuse is prevented, first of all, through awareness, then early detection and intervention. Protecting kids from abuse is the first and foremost concern of police and child protection authorities.
Every family is advised to seek counseling in order to be able to provide the support and comfort needed for a child. There are professionals - psychiatrists and counselors, who successfully treat psychological and behavioral disorders. And in such case when someone in the family is responsible for the abuse, a mental health professionals may be able to treat that person successfully, as well. For such individuals there are parenting and anger management classes, which can help improve their parenting skills.
Child abuse is a silent crime. It happens in every country, in all cultures, social classes, and religions. Every person noticing anything suspicious regarding any child, no matter a close one or just a stranger, must feel obligated to report his suspicions of abuse. Denying the problem will only make the situation worse, allowing the abuse to continue unchecked, therefore decreasing a child's chances for a full recovery.