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Child abuse in a nutshell


by Garvie Thomas. Corporal 649 03.APR.09

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, nearly all mothers and fathers can point to incidents in which they fell short of their ideals as parents – perhaps a moment of frustration in which they believed they were somehow abusive to their children when, in retrospect, they really hadn’t been. Most parents will never actually be child abusers, and most children will never be abused.{{more}}

According to Bantam (1999), child abuse includes a number of forms of severe maltreatment, including physical abuse, physical neglect, verbal abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. Some unfortunate children experience multiple types of abuse. For instance, a child who experiences repeated instances of emotional abuse might also be victimised by occasional, deliberate physical violence. Severe physical abuse – even if only a rare outburst by overwhelmed parents with out – of – control anger – can inflict permanent damage on children and, in some cases, death.

Parental neglect – in which a child receives little or no supervision in and around the home, for example – can have tragic consequences if injuries occur. Even when it poses no immediate threat to a child’s safety, prolonged or repeated neglect – in which his basic needs for clothing, nutrition, medical care, education, shelter and nurturance are not met – can have adverse physical, social, developmental and emotional consequences.

The number of cases of child abuse is on the rise, with reports of abuse to child protection agencies increasing dramatically in recent years. With societal drug and alcohol problems so severe, and the number of children in poverty growing, the incidence of child abuse is likely to continue to rise.


Most abusers are members of the child’s family – if not a parent, then a close relative (such as an uncle or an older brother or sister), or a member of the household. And a number of factors can contribute to their abuse of children. Pressures on the family, both internal and external, can take a toll. When parents are feeling financial strain, job stress, or marital problems, their anger and frustration may make them prone to strike out at their child. At certain times of the day – perhaps in the early evening after a hard day at work – parents may find it particularly difficult to control their tempers when children misbehave or merely try their patience. Parents, who are socially isolated, without adequate sources of emotional support or a helping hand with daily tasks and responsibilities, are more likely to lose control and abuse their children.

Alcohol and other drug use by parents is often a contributor to child abuse.


According to Newton (2001), the effects of child abuse are numerous. These include: Academic difficulties; Aggressive behaviour; Alcohol and other drug abuse; Anxiety; Attention problems; Bad dreams; Bed wetting; Behaviour problems; Chronic pain; Compulsive sexual behaviours; Concentration problems; Dangerous behaviour such as speeding; Dehydration; Depression; Dissociative states; Eating disorders; Failure to thrive; Fear or shyness; Fear of certain adults or places; Frequent injuries; Insomnia; Learning problems; Lying; Malnutrition; Oppositionality; Panic attacks; Physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches; Repeated self injury; Risky sexual behaviours; Running away; Self neglect; Separation anxiety; Sexual dysfunction; Sleep disorders; Social withdrawal; Stealing; Stuttering; Substance abuse; Suicide attempts; Thumb sucking or any age – inappropriate behaviour and Truancy.

Children have different levels of resiliency or hardiness and different personality attributes, so children respond differently to similarly abusive situations. That is why the list of warning signs above seems so general. None of the symptoms above is diagnostic of child abuse – i.e., the presence of any of the signs above does not prove that abuse has occurred. Also, a child may endure abuse without developing any of the symptoms above. Abuse simply increases the risk for all of the symptoms. Basically, children are supposed to learn everything they need to thrive in this world from their caretakers. Abusive parents provide the opposite of what children need. Instead of teaching and nurturing growth, they distort and destroy.

Child abuse is not just an individual or familial problem. Unless you avoid people entirely, it is nearly impossible to go a day without encountering a survivor of childhood abuse. Children who survive abuse grow up more likely to negatively impact our society in many ways, not just by handing down the legacy of abuse to their own children. Child abuse bursts out of the family and infects our society with callousness and cynicism, anger and violence, and crime, drugs and disease.

The effects of child abuse on victims are devastating and life – long and its effects on our society are pervasive. Still, it is difficult to measure the prevalence of abuse in our society, and no attempts to measure so far have overcome the basic difficulties of underreporting. This is frustrating because we seem to be able to measure everything else from the amount of money we put in the bank annually to the number of times we have sex every week. It reflects an attitude in our nation and in our government – our priorities are skewed. Also frustrating is the fact that there are simple, cost – effective solutions to the problem of child abuse and neglect. Still, they are not funded. On the hopeful side, the private sector and volunteer organisations have taken the leadership role in healing our society of the effects of child abuse. There are quite a number of persons and organisations who are doing good work to prevent and fix the problem. All of us need to get involved and help to prevent, eliminate, minimise and stop child abuse in all forms.


If you suspected that a child you know is being abused – perhaps a niece, or a child in the neighbourhood or community or a classmate of your child – you have a responsibility to become involved. Teachers are often the first to see the changes in a child’s physical appearance, emotional condition, and behaviour changes that suggest he or she is being hurt or in trouble. In the United States, teachers (as well as doctors, dentists and other professionals are legally obligated to report suspected cases of abuse – and for good reason: Every year, children die from abuse, often even after someone became aware that they were being victimised.

If you have abused your own child or feel that such behaviour might occur, talk with a trusted adult such as a doctor, a police officer, a teacher or a pastor. He or she may refer you to a professional or agency where you can get help, including assistance in dealing with your own fears and guilt. Both parents and child may benefit from some guidance and counselling, individually and collectively, perhaps at shelters for domestic violence that can break the cycle. You will be guided toward dealing with your emotions without resorting to violence. You will have the opportunity to discuss your own parenting experiences and your current life stresses. You will be shown ways to cope effectively with stress so that you do not fall into inflicting injuries upon your child. You have a responsibility to you and your child to find ways to relate at home that are violence-free day after day.

  • Please reassure the child by saying: ‘’I believe you.’’

‘’You are not alone.’’
“The abuse is not your fault.’’

  • Explain what will happen next if possible:

‘’I have to share what you told me with some people. They can help you and your family.’’

  • Offer to stay with the child for support.

Finally, you might get involved to help reduce the incidence of child abuse in your community at large. You can become an advocate for caring and respectful environment for all of our nation’s children. True, some sectors of our society condone corporal punishment and even outwardly abusive behaviour toward children – but this is wrong. We all can work with the schools both primary and secondary to eliminate physical punishment and to promote and teach positive and constructive ways to deal with anger and conflicts.

After all, our children are our nation’s future! We each have a responsibility to the children of our communities. We owe it to them to respect and respond to their needs. One way to do this is to educate ourselves about the different forms of child abuse.