Disrobing Child Maltreatment

The alarming rise in the reports of child maltreatment has pervaded spaces,  discourses and climes where concerns about public health, legislative, judicial,  human rights, political, media, economic, social capital, cultural and religious systems appear frequently. While the clamour against child maltreatment seems nascent, the subject of child maltreatment is evidently not a new phenomenon.  Child maltreatment is historical and presumably linked to culture and religion with occurrences such as corporal punishment, female genital mutilation and child marriage. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its 2006 publication titled “Preventing Child Maltreatment: A Guide to Taking Action and Generating Evidence” reveals that child maltreatment is linked with inter-personal violence which may be physical,  emotional, sexual or negligent in nature and which can be perpetrated by anyone with whom a child has some relationship or contact with. The obvious or subtle presence of violence in any relationship with a child will often result in that child’s maltreatment. Physical maltreatment involves using physical force against children with or without an object. Emotional maltreatment revolves around activities that denigrate children. Sexual maltreatment objectifies children for sexual pleasure while child neglect are activities whose omission or commission deprives children of needed care. Maltreated children will show signs of injuries, low self-esteem,  openness to and acceptance of abusive treatments from self and others, becoming

abusive in behaviour towards people, poor hygiene, malnourishment, illnesses and fear, among others. In extreme cases, child maltreatment will result in death.

Child maltreatment can be triggered and aggravated by reasons such as high levels of societal tolerance for abuse towards children, the low class ascribed to children in communities, under-reporting and poor reporting of child maltreatment cases and the absence of accessible, sufficient and effective child welfare services, just to name a few. The World Health Organisation further states that the severity of child maltreatment that may result from reasons such as these is dependent on three specially identified risk factors. These are children’s level of dependence on caregivers, their vulnerability which can be characterized by their weakness in ensuring their well-being and their social invisibility in society.

Societal tolerance for the maltreatment of children will exhibit itself through normalizing the exposure of children to violence including its interpersonal forms,  caregivers who abuse drugs, caregivers with mental health problems, the access and use of drugs by children, questionable cultural and religious practices like child marriage and the neglect of restrictions that can curb children from engaging in risky behaviours, among others. The 2023 article “Tackling the normalization of neglect” reveals that the normalization trend pervades neighbourhoods of poor social and economic status including communities with high numbers of children who commonly experience abuse with limited interventions. Unfortunately, with

various forms of socio-economic constraints worsening globally, the societal tolerance for the maltreatment of children may continue, unabated.

The maltreatment of children is equally linked with the low class which is ascribed to them. Typically, this can be a function of their parents’ low socio-economic standing identified by educational levels, income levels and type of occupation. Children of these parents can be identified by their poor health condition, low school enrolment, low school attendance, high live-in arrangements with extended families and high participation in the child labour market. In other situations,  culture and religion sometimes present children as individuals with little

significance in the community as they are viewed mostly as being in need of discipline and direction and other times, as individuals meant to be seen but not necessarily heard.

Under-reporting and low-reporting have on their part worsened the incidences of child maltreatment. Under-reporting can be viewed as the willful refusal to disclose all the information that pertains to a child maltreatment case and may involve the influence of bias in how child maltreatment is reported. Low reporting

on its part, has to do with the reduced frequency of reporting child maltreatment.  Disturbingly, the under-reporting and low-reporting of child maltreatment have been postulated to be caused by limited knowledge of what child maltreatment entails; allegiance to the family where the child maltreatment occurred; reluctance or aversion to initiating investigation of child maltreatment cases by law

enforcement agents; absence of legislation that mandates the reporting of child maltreatment; fear of litigation; lack of journalistic expertise in reporting child maltreatment and complicity in child maltreatment. For instance, research reveals that journalistic reporting on child maltreatment is usually low in quality, full of sensationalism, tends to silence victims and experts on child maltreatment matters,  focuses mainly on victims and less on perpetrators, may incite more criticisms towards the victim than the perpetrator and lacks information on preventive and responsive interventions. This highlights the urgent need for change in how child maltreatment cases are reported.

Startlingly, the reporting of child maltreatment cases becomes irrelevant when child welfare services are inaccessible, insufficient or ineffective. In fact, no child maltreatment case can be adequately addressed if there are limited resources for investigation, litigation, communication, education and recuperation. Thus,

commitment to the delivery of accessible, sufficient and effective child welfare service in terms of qualified and trained staff, funding and opportunities to collaborate with relevant stakeholders, remain crucial.

Exposing child maltreatment can reduce healthcare, economic and social costs to individuals and communities. Additionally, they can improve family and societal functioning as it relates to child care, engender safer learning spaces for children,  advocate for more commitment and professionalism in reporting child maltreatment and provide needed platforms for progressive child welfare service.

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