Experts in Early Childhood Development determine that an atrocity committed on a child becomes an indelible scar for the rest of his or her life. Child nurturing, grooming and health care should be thorough if the child is to attain maximum intelligence and potential.
Inappropriate child nurturing is a recipe for an unwitting creation of future social misfits. Children need the best parental care for children especially between age zero and eight years. The initial three years are the most critical. It is unfortunate that child abusers are now a menace. Not many years ago, when child rearing was a communal responsibility in most tribal settings, child abuse was virtually unknown.
We now know that some people are cruel to children. We also know that some children are abused with impunity, without anyone stepping in to save them. In this column, today, I look at some of the real facts on child abuse – a diabolical affront, especially to early childhood care. We all, as a society, should be aware of the mental distress and even physical dangers that children face. Children need complete communal protection.
Despite, the threat posed by child abusers we still need to offer a good environment for children to grow in. It is vital, therefore, that we do not panic and keep our children indoors, denying them the chance to grow up and develop independence. Whatever the case, it is imperative to mention a few examples of practices that amount to gross child abuse. When parents or other adults deliberately injure a child or do nothing to prevent it, this amounts to child abuse.
This includes hitting, ruthless shaking, biting and kicking. It also includes giving children alcohol or drugs to get them to sleep! Yes, some parents abuse children this way. Gross abuse on children also includes using excessive force when feeding a child, dressing him or other activity. Some parents or minders threaten children with suffocation or drowning to get him to behave well. Defilements and cases of incest are increasing in Tanzania and, to say the least, this is diabolical.
Some children are denied food as punishment for bad conduct. Injuries caused in physical abuse include bruises, swellings and even broken bones. And there is female genital mutilation (FGM)! It has now come to light that FGM is sometimes carried out on infants. It suffices to mention here that those subject infants to FGM are criminals who should be languishing in jail. They are simply stark raving mad. The most serious cases of child abuse can result in brain damage, hemorrhage and even death.
Caning is, arguably, the most common form of child abuse in this country. Incidents in which incensed parents bite their children are rare but they are prevalent. I know numerous incidents during which parents or guardians burned their children’s hands or feet after alleged thefts of small amounts of money or sugar.
It should be expressly known that any form of child abuse is a criminal offence that is punishable by law. In the West parents who abuse children end up losing them to welfare centres. Sometimes the abusers land in jail. I must point out here that parents who burn the fingers of their sons and daughters commit a heinous felony. And there are those who sell their children to strangers! Some parents continuously fail to show love and affection to their children.
This is most evident when parents or other adults constantly use sarcasm, threats or criticism on children. Some yell at or taunt children. Emotional abuse can destroy a child’s self-esteem, making him fearful and withdrawn. All children need love and praise to feel confident and loveable. The effects of emotional abuse are serious and can be long lasting. They often wreck relationships, cause poor mental health and a lack of confidence in adult life. Neglect is a common form of child abuse in many families.
When parents fail to meet a child’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothing or medical care, this amounts to neglect. This can also mean leaving children to fend for themselves when they are too young and immature to manage the challenges of earning a living. Leaving children home alone without adult supervision, for example, is a form of neglect.
Neglected children may be very withdrawn or even aggressive and can develop health problems or have difficulty coping in school. It is common to find this kind of children in most communities. When an adult uses a child for sexual gratification, this amounts to gross abuse. This might mean forcing the child to carry out sexual acts, including sexual touching, oral sex and even intercourse.
It can include indecent exposure or deliberately showing a child adult pornographic videos. It also includes filming or photographing children in a sexual way. Both boys and girls are sexually abused, and it can happen to very young children - even babies. It is imperative to mention here that the effects of sexual abuse are long lasting and highly damaging.
Some children who are abused in this way may go on to become abusers themselves. It is estimated that at least one child dies each week in this country as a result of physical abuse. Babies are particularly vulnerable, (being five times more likely to be killed than all other ages).
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