CHILD VIOLENCE: BREAKING THE SILENCE
Updated: Aug 28
By - Abid Faheem, Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Child violence in all its forms is a fundamental human rights violation and a serious issue across the globe, affecting the millions of children's life. Children who have been severely abused or neglected experience, both short term and long-term consequences that hampers their overall development. The experience of a violent/abusive environment creates a culture of low self-esteem and depression, which leads to self-harm and risky behaviours. The adverse impact also carries huge economic and social costs.
Over the decades, the harmful effects of child violence on children have been getting recognised; however, the subject is still masked in the wall of silence. There are various reasons to it, such as difficult to define, lack of clarity on measuring the breadth and depth of violence due to its multiple forms/nature, socio-cultural sanctions to certain forms of violence, and so on. Violence happens everywhere; there is no safe place for a child, not even his/her home. Each year, millions of people lose their lives as a result of self-inflicted, interpersonal, or collective violence, and many more suffer non-fatal injuries. Most form of violence is almost invisible because the human cost in grief and pain cannot be calculated. The invisible form is so because it is deeply rooted in the social, cultural, and economic structure of the society (Krug, Mercy, Dahlberg, Zwi, & Lozano, 2002).
There is no universal definition of child violence due to the complexity of the subject that can be applied universally across the globe. The definition or nature of the phenomenon is greatly influenced by the economic, political, legal, societal, and cultural context. Therefore, this phenomenon must be defined and explained within the constructs of its socio-cultural environments (Finkelhor & Korbin, 1988; Segal, 1992).
According to WHO, child violence is be defined as "all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent 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" (World Health Organisation, 1999). In other words, it is a state of physical, sexual, emotional, and commercial exploitation of a person below the age of 18 years, and is an outcome of a set of inter-related familial, social, psychological, and economic factors (Kacker, Varadan, & Kumar, 2007).
It is a well-established fact among the expert that violence during childhood adversely affects the child; however, the same recognition is very limited, and the issue of child violence still couldn't get much attention. The one way to erode its social acceptance and to unveil the adverse impact is to present the evidence in the form of reliable data to the audience about the severity of the issue. Therefore, the author would like to present available data to show how severe the issue is, that impact the growth and development of a child. According to WHO, an estimated 31000 deaths were attributed to homicide among children less than 15 years of age, and over half of all children aged 2 to 17 – are estimated to have experienced emotional, physical, and/or sexual violence. The risk of fatal abuse is two to three times higher in low-income and middle-income countries than it is in high-income countries (World Health Organisation, 2006). The crisis of sexual violence is particularly more acute.
The World Health Organization has estimated that 150 million girls and 73 million boys below the age of 18 have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact (ibid). Coming to the Indian context, as per the study of the Ministry of Women and Child Development of India (2007), two out of every three children experience physical abuse, 53.22% of children experience one or more kinds of sexual abuse, and every second child experience emotional abuse. The study also reveals that it is young children between 5-12 year age groups who are at a higher risk of abuse and exploitation (Kacker et al., 2007). In a study of 51 children suspected to be victims of child abuse referred to Childline in Chandigarh revealed that physical abuse was the most common (84%), followed by emotional abuse (76%) and neglect (47%). Girls were significantly more affected than boys, and neglect was more common in the younger age-group, whereas physical and emotional abuse increased with age (Singhi, Saini, & Malhi, 2013).
The prevalence rate of child violence across the globe is very high. According to UNICEF worldwide, 3 in 4 children aged 2-4 violent experience discipline such as physical punishment and/or psychological aggression by their caregivers, and around 6 in 10 children are punished by physical means. In the age group of 2-4 years, 75% of children experience some form of violence, while 63% of children experience physical punishment, and 67% of children experience psychological aggression. In the school environment, worldwide, more than 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13-15 years, experience bullying (UNICEF, 2017).
In India, according to a study conducted by MWCD on child abuse in 13 states in India documented that 68.99% of children experienced physical abuse, out of which most of the respondents (54.68%) were boys. The similar study documents that 59% of children from the family environment not going to schools experienced physical abuse within the family; from school-going children, an overwhelming majority of 65.01% of children reported being beaten at school that means two out of three children are victims of corporal punishment; from child care institutions 56.37% children were subjected to physical abuse by staff members of the institutions; from the working children 58.79% children reported physical abuse, and physical abuse among street children either by family members or by others or both was 66.8% across the states.
In the case of sexual violence, 53.22% reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse; among them, 52.94% were boys and 47.06% girls. In the case of emotional abuse, the study documented that every second child perceives himself or herself as being emotionally abused. In short, two out of every three children experience physical abuse, 53.22% of children experience sexual abuse, and every second child experiences emotional abuse. The study also reveals that it is young children between 5- 12 years group who are at higher risk of abuse and exploitation (Kacker et al., 2007).
The data presented above about the high prevalence of child violence and its impact reveals the severity of the issue. It should be noted that the above-presented data may not be actual because most of the cases are not reported or recognised. As child violence is a fundamental violation of human rights, every state must intervene and take steps to protect children from all kind of violence, the rights that are provided under article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), an international agreement of which most countries including India are signatories. There is also a need to break the silence around the issue by engaging more and more people in the discussions. Amidst this global pandemic, which is affecting everyone's life, none is more important or urgent than the overall protection of children.
Finkelhor, D., & Korbin, J. (1988). Child Abuse as an International Issue. Child Abuse & Neglect, 12, 3–23.
Kacker, L., Varadan, S., & Kumar, P. (2007). Study on Child Abuse : INDIA 2007. In Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India.
Krug, E. G., Mercy, J. A., Dahlberg, L. L., Zwi, A. B., & Lozano, R. (2002). The World Report on Violence and Health. In World Health Organization. Geneva.
Segal, U. A. (1992). Child Abuse in India : An Empirical Report On Perceptions. Child Abuse & Neglect, 16, 887–908.
Singhi, P., Saini, A. G., & Malhi, P. (2013). Child Maltreatment in India. Paediatrics and International Child Health, 33(4), 292–300. https://doi.org/10.1179/2046905513Y.0000000099
UNICEF. (2017). A Familiar Face: Violence in the Lives of Children and Adolescents. New York.
World Health Organisation. (1999). Report of the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention. Geneva.
World Health Organisation. (2006). Preventing Child Maltreatment : A Guide to Taking Action and Generating Evidence. In World Health Organization. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781412950664.n54
(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Child Rights Centre.)