Child Abuse: Prevalence and Policies in the United Kingdom

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Child Abuse in The United Kingdom

Introduction

J.F. Kennedy, the 35th President of United States of America once quoted “children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for future” (www.thinkexisit.com). But what is happening to that valuable resource is a topic for serious discussion in view of the increasing child abuse cases all over the world. The world has pledged to tackle child abuse while many countries have their own policies, laws and legislations providing rights and opportunities to the children. Children day is celebrated all over the world for giving recognition the love of elders towards their children, on different days by various countries and universally on 20th November, to be observed as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children (www.un.org). As this paper aims to establish a concrete evidence about the statement from Ryder et al (1993), the word ‘abuse’ needs to elaborated so as to understand what child abuse is? According to Vanessa, child and family therapist, ‘abuse is something that cannot always be seen – hurts the people on the inside and outside, and the pain feels worse when it is kept a secret’. (Gerrits and Newton, 2010). Basing on the observation made by Vanessa, it could be assumed that child abuse is a malpractice effecting their overall development in all aspects of life; both physically and mentally. However, various definitions have been strategically devised by different authors, organizations and nations to formulate policies, laws and legislations which can tackle, punish and prevent child abuse.

Definitions of Child Abuse

World Health Organization (WHO) Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention compared and analyzed definitions of abuse from 58 countries leading to a conclusive definition which stated that “child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/ or emotional ill – treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligible treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting 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’. According to the Council Report by Royal College of Psychiatrists, London ‘child abuse and neglect include both acts of omission and commission in interactions between adults (or older adolescents) and children that have caused, or are likely to cause, enduring harm to the child. Above definitions have one thing in common which gives importance to negligence of children by their elders.

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Historical Incidence of Child Abuse

Child abuse occurs in variety of forms across the world which came to be recognized only after ‘the battered child syndrome’ was coined in 1962 by Helfer, Kempe and Krugman (Devi, 2008). Child abuse happens when an adult a child trusts or depends on hurts, mistreats, or does not care for them which is against the law. Various researches have led to conclusion that child abuse can be caused by a parent, sibling, coach or a teacher as well as someone they are less close to, such as a friend’s parent (Gerrits, 2010). Violence against children has been manifested in every conceivable manner, physically, emotionally, through neglect, by sexual exploitation and by child labor. Child maltreatment or child abuse is not a new phenomenon as it existed since the beginning of recorded history which thrived in the shadows of privacy and secrecy throughout these years but only came to light due to continuous redefining and re-labeling of the concept (Helfer et al, 1999). Child maltreatment persisted in olden days when the term abuse was not even related to child. If the events of abuses on children are taken into account from the olden days, Whitfield (1995) states that ‘a memorial kind of structure like Vietnam War Memorial which has 50,000 names etched on it, could be built, the size of which will be 1300 times, with the names of children who were abused, sexually only and the size would increase by 7500 times if other forms of child abuse is included.

According to Lloyd deMause, a historian who studied childhood and society for over 20 years, pointed out that childhood in the past was routinely filled with terror, neglect and abuse – both physical and emotional. Whitfield (1995) traces the history of child abuse back to The Bible, where there has been recorded evidence of child sale, slavery for sexual purposes, which were common in Greek, Roman and other societies. Unfortunately, child abuse has rich history with nominal research into the history of child abuse. As legends say, past comes haunting in the future, child abuse is still prevailing all over the world making it a nightmare for the nations to eradicate it, but in vain. Historically, children were considered property of their parents who had unrestricted authority over them for all the disciplinary decisions. It is reported that fathers has the right to sell, kill, sacrifice their child in case the child was born deformed, weak or in any other form that than was considered the norm. Sexual abuse within the family was common in olden days and parents used their children to work as laborers in apprenticeships, workhouses, orphanages, placement mills, factories and other industries. It is further reported by Bagnell (1985) that 8000 children were trafficked from the streets of Dublin and London to Canada as slaves to work on farms and in factories.

Gradually, the sufferings of children were noticed around the world, thanks to Globe, when its reported in 1886 wrote about the child abuse horrors experienced by these children. Toronto Humane Society, in 1887, came into existence with an objective to prevent cruelty to animals and children. Later, Children’s Aid Society was formed in 1981 to protect the children from all forms of abusive behavior and acts. The first recorded instance of child abuse was during 1873 when Mrs. Etta Wheeler, a church worker found Mary-Ellen, a 9 year old girl shackled to her bed, grossly malnourished, scarred and badly beaten. The incident was reported to the authority that was turned down forcing Mrs. Wheeler to comment in front of American SPCA that ‘animals were protected, but children were not’. Mrs. Wheeler made an appeal to ASPCA that children were members of the animal kingdom and they have the right to live with freedom (www.child-abuse-effects.com).

Prevalence of Child Abuse – World and the United Kingdom

Child abuse and neglect is a terrible misfortune for millions of children and families, for communities and for society affecting children of all colors, social classes, ethnic groups and religions. According to a World Health Organization estimate about 40 million children aged 0 – 14 around the world suffer from abuse and neglect and require health and social care.


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