Our society’s dark underbelly

Nizar Merchant

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”- Nelson Mandela at the launching ceremony of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in 1995 (1).

A society where children are not given their due respect and attention never flourishes. Child abuse is unfortunately most common and one of the most neglected and under-reported issues globally and nationally. WHO defines child abuse and maltreatment as, “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment 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 (2). It is witnessed in all ethnic, cultural and income groups (3). Often this problem is understated and not reported and hence very few prevalence reports are found from South Asia (2), reason being its high acceptance and considering it as part of teaching discipline within the society.

Regrettably its short term and long term consequences are less understood which range from overly distressing child’s physical, mental and social well being. When we try to look into the matter more closely, there are certain factors which together initiate this problem. According to “environmental stress theory model” (2), stressful life conditions and home environment, including poverty, unemployment, lower educational status, nuclear family structure, are prominent factors which initiate and then further aggravate child abuse. And then it keeps on increasing like a vicious cycle; as those children who have experienced child abuse when young exhibits hostile behavior during adulthood towards family and others hence giving rise to a continuous cycle of violence.

A recent study conducted in Karachi, where child and mother were recruited from primary health care clinics, found that among children of 6-12 years of age 32.5% were abused, results also revealed that female child was four times at higher risk for experiencing child abuse than male child (2). If we look at our neighboring countries we will not be surprised to see similar findings. However the better part of the story is that progress towards recognizing child abuse as a serious matter internationally and nationally has been made.

UNICEF is currently working with the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education, Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, Provincial Social Welfare Departments, International and national NGOs and other UN agencies to protect children from abuse.

Many nation-wide organizations like ROZAN and SAHIL which are supported by UN are working on different aspects of child abuse especially child sexual abuse (4). They extend their services by advocacy, awareness campaigns and focus group discussions run by a team of psychologists, psychiatrists, community workers, management experts, researchers, teachers and doctors. But still there is a strong need to raise public sensitivity and awareness about these problems. Children, parents and teachers should be made aware about it; it is a tragic fact but children suffer fall to a greater extent by the hands of parents and their friends then they do by the hands of strangers. Each child deserves to be loved, taken care of, guided and appreciated.

As Khaled Hosseini said in kite runner, “children are not coloring books and you don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors” their free wings should be given the entire sky to fly and make their own path.

1. Abdullah MA, Basharat Z, Lodhi O, Wazir MH, Khan HT, Sattar NY, et al. A qualitative exploration of Pakistan’s street children, as a consequence of the poverty-disease cycle. Infectious diseases of poverty. 2014;3(1):11.
2. Ali NS, Khuwaja AK. Magnitude and factors associated with child abuse in a mega city of developing country Pakistan. Iranian journal of pediatrics. 2014;24(2):140.
3. Iravani MR. Child abuse in India. Asian social science. 2011;7(3):p150.
4. . Available from: http://www.unicef.org/pakistan/partners_1790.htm.

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