Childhood is a stage of life when children learn new things, explore their environment and form their identities. During this tender and vulnerable period of their life, it is heartbreaking to know that many children are victims of aggression and violence. On the occasion of International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression, this article strives to address the questions which frequently come to our mind: How to recognise child abuse? How to protect our children from abuse? How to help a child victim?
AGGRESSION AND ITS FORMS
Any behaviour intended to harm another person, be it physical or psychological, is considered an act of aggression. It often leads to violence. Exposure to violence at a developmentally critical period of one’s life leaves lifelong scars on individuals’ minds.
The most apparent population of children that come to mind as victims of aggression are those that live in societies inflicted by armed conflict. After all, the United Nations decided to commemorate this day following the tragedies carried out against children during the Israel-Lebanon dispute in 1982.
Children are vulnerable to being mere collateral damage to the hostilities inflicted during a war. In addition, disruption of law enforcement during the time leaves them exposed to direct sexual and physical violence, abduction, disruption of education through attacks on schools, in addition to all of this denial of humanitarian care from an outside party.
However, children are exposed to aggression outside of these war-torn societies. They are not victims of political agendas or collateral damages for military armies. Yet, they suffer. They suffer at the hands of people they know and trust to treat them right. In such scenarios, aggression can display itself in the form of parenting neglect, use of physical punishments, any kind of physical abuse, sexual assault and harassment, bullying, and emotional and psychological abuse.
Emotional and Psychological abuse can be hard to detect. But the negative impact it has on the child’s holistic development is the same as the impact of physical violence. In fact, mere witnessing physical or psychological aggressive behaviour in households (for instance, violence between spouses to maintain control in the relationship) can have a detrimental impact on the child’s development.
HOW TO IDENTIFY CHILDREN AS VICTIM OF AGGRESSION?
Many times children are unaware of the gravity of their situation. Others have been intimidated or manipulated by the abuser not to express their pain to another adult. Thus, if you live, work, or have close relationships with children, you must be aware of the most common symptoms of abuse amongst children.
Signs of physical and sexual abuse –
- Unexplained bruises or injuries
- Sexual knowledge or behaviour not appropriate for their age
- Swelling or redness in the genitalia
- Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Aversion of simple physical contact
- Bloody, torn or stained underwear
- Hypervigilance- constantly aware of their surroundings, even in seemingly non-threatening situations.
- Displaying fearful behaviour towards specific individuals
Signs of emotional abuse –
- Being socially withdrawn
- A noticeable change in self-confidence
- Poor self-esteem
- Delay in speech and emotional development
Signs of neglect –
- Always dressed shabbily
- Frequent absence from schoo.
- Poor diet and physical growth
- Constantly sick and does not receive necessary medical care
Some of these behaviours may seem normal for children. However, when looked at within a broader context, the constant presence of a multitude of these signs point to the experience of abuse by the child and should not be taken lightly. Acting on these alarming changes in a child is beyond vital to ensure the safety of our children.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If your lifestyle puts you in close proximity to children, keep a lookout for any of the above symptoms of abuse. This is a significant first step. If you notice these signs of abuse in the child, contact the child protection service like Childline in India or the nearest police. It’s better to look into the matter and find no case of abuse than taking no action and letting the child suffer.
There are many factors behind why children don’t reveal experiences. 90% of the time, children know their abusers personally. Thus, they are easily convinced to keep the incidents a secret through emotional manipulation or intimidation.
If you are concerned and want to hear the child’s side of the story, try and create a safe space where they can open up to you. It should model an environment that is calm, reassuring and does not blame or punish the child for their circumstances. You can speak in a manner that matches their language and level, so they feel at ease speaking with you. Carefully listen to what the children have to say as they may be unable to articulate their experiences. Last but not least, provide constant verbal and active reassurance that they are safe and you are here for them.
HOW TO PREVENT ABUSE?
Children have rights. Thirty-two years ago, world leaders came together to draft the most successful humanitarian rights treaty ever. It details the rights of a child to a safe childhood. It is known as The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989. India is among those countries that have agreed to conform to the demands of this document. Our country has policies to ensure that the 41% population that are children are protected from heinous crimes and have basic necessities, including education and medical care.
It is our duty as their caretakers to introduce them to their rights as early as possible. Educating children and respecting their informed decisions contributes towards creating a safer environment for them. For instance – we should start teaching them about bodily autonomy (the right of a person to control their body) in their formative years. More importantly, when they do make a decision, like saying no to a hug from another person, we should respect their wishes. Actions speak louder than words.
Another instance of education is to provide age-appropriate sex education to children. Simple knowledge like the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch goes a long way in keeping a child safe. Similarly, openly talking, learning and modelling good mental health habits helps children spot when they are emotionally exploited. Knowing the people in your child’s life and occasionally supervising their interactions with the child can also help protect them.
The trust a child places in those around him is the most sacred. It is our duty to protect them from harm’s way. We can make this international day of innocent children victims of aggression truly matter by educating ourselves and our community about the importance of today and the rights of our children. Let us take a small step towards creating a better space for our children by becoming vigilant and involved in their safe upbringing. Let’s protect their innocence together.
Writen by : Goutami Patankar
Edited by Ananya Shetty