In India, it’s the child welfare committees that would ascertain what would be in the “best interest” of the child.
Parental abuse is one of the most prevalent forms of assault that children face, both in India and abroad. However, parental training on child development and non-coercive discipline practices improve behaviour and prevent exploitation of children and bad behaviour by parents.
Across the globe these past few weeks, the media has been rife with horrifying reports of children being abused, even killed, by those who are supposed to love and protect them — their parents. While these cases have made national and international media headlines, thousands of cases of parental abuse and violence go unreported.
The harsh fact is that parental abuse is one of the most prevalent forms of abuse that children face both nationally and globally. In most cases, murder or other forms of extreme violence is the culmination of years of abuse and violence that the child was subjected to, which may have well been prevented had there been intervention earlier for both parent and child.
Parents are not monsters. In fact, most parents would give their lives for their children. So, why these horrifying incidents?
Consider the recent case in Bangalore: a mother killed her child by deliberately “dropping” her from the fourth floor of the building she lived in. She was a single mother as her husband had reportedly left her. Her parents had allegedly disowned her as they disapproved of her marriage, and she had no job.
There is little doubt that the mother was going through extreme psychological stress and may have been mentally unstable. In such a scenario, the child should have been removed from the parent and put in the care of the father or other relatives. Failing this, it could be taken into the social security system.
In India, it’s the child welfare committees that would ascertain what would be in the “best interest” of the child and provide a safe protective environment for the child on a temporary basis, while the mother was being treated. Unfortunately, social security systems are immensely weak for children in India, despite the knowledge that child abuse is rampant.
According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, two out of every three children in India faced one or the other form of physical abuse. Additionally, “out of those children physically abused in family situations, 88.6 per cent were physically abused by parents”. Every second child was emotionally abused, and 83 per cent of the surveyed children reported that this abuse took place at the hands of their parents. Globally, too, “four out of every five children, between two and 14 years of age face violent discipline in home settings, and seven out of 10 children are victims of emotional violence, often from parents”.
Taking cognisance of the widespread nature of the issue of violence against children, the Union government launched an Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) in 2009, but few know about it or how to access it.
Consider this: Our budget for child protection is 0.05 per cent of the total Union Budget, which translates to a mere Rs 648 crore in 2017-2018 for the entire country. With this, each district is supposed to set up a district child protection unit with approximately 12 social workers. However, the salaries for these social workers range from Rs 8000 to Rs 15,000, as compared to the salary of Rs 25,000 of a safai karamchari (sanitary worker). How then are we expected to get trained professionals for such meagre salaries?
In addition, while the ICPS aims to cover children, it does not provide for parenting. Parenting is a difficult job which needs support and guidance. Giving birth and raising a child is often stressful and taxing. With greater urbanisation and couples living outside the joint family system, traditional support mechanisms that often help alleviate stress are not there. Even those parents who have the privilege of being able to afford domestic help and nannies often grapple with issues such as post-natal depression.
Prevention of violence against children
Much of the abuse of children occurs because of psychological stress and mental health of parents. Therefore, to curb child abuse, it is critical to recognise and address issues of mental health and provide accessible, professional counselling services. However, mental health is itself a greatly neglected area in the country and still largely taboo.
Yet it is perhaps one of the most pressing concerns of society today with an estimated one in every four families having a member suffering from a mental health disorder. Experience in other countries has shown that parental training on child development and non-coercive discipline practices improve child behaviour and prevent abuse of children and parents.
A Unicef report in 2014 clearly showed that giving parents knowledge of child-rearing strategies and techniques, as well as economic support, helps mitigate physical abuse. Parenting must be included as a critical part of the existing ICPS to help in preventing violence from the outset by “promoting positive parent-child interactions, including non-violent discipline”.
The two distinct types of violence faced by children are child maltreatment by parents and caregivers in children aged 0-14, and violence occurring in community settings among children in the age group of 15-18 years. WHO says abuse and violence by parents and caregivers can be prevented by:
Strengthening the protection system
The child welfare committees and the district child protection units need to be strengthened in order to provide real safeguards for children and an adequate referral mechanism.
It is important to focus on various inter-sectoral programmes to help create a better environment for both parents and children. For instance, training of more mental health workers, and including prevention and treatment of child abuse as part of the training of paediatricians, as well as ASHAs and ANMs so that the medical profession at different levels is equipped to recognise the “danger” signs for children and identify children at risk.
Whilst arguably the best place for children is in a nurturing, safe home environment, if children are facing violence or are being abused at home, they need to be removed and placed in an alternative secure environment, starting with other relatives. Children learn what they see. Abuse and violence causes terrible damage not only to an individual child but also society. Child sexual abuse accounts for approximately 6 per cent of cases of depression, 6 per cent of alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, 8 per cent of suicide attempts, 10 per cent of panic disorders and 27 per cent of post-traumatic stress disorders.”
Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Statistics of child abuse sadly point to a sign that something is deeply wrong. The first sign is to recognise it, and then to act, as an individual, a society and a nation.
Oct. 2017: An adopted Indian girl’s body was found in a culvert in Houston after being reported missing by her foster father Wesley Mathew. He initially told police that Sherin Mathews, 3, went missing after he put her outside at 3 am to discipline her for not drinking milk. It was revealed later that the girl choked and died when he tried to pour milk down her throat.
Aug. 2017: A woman in Bengaluru allegedly threw her differently-abled daughter, 9, off the roof, twice, until the child died due to the fall.
Oct. 2017: A video showed the mother of an autistic child dragging her child along the pavement in Liverpool. People slammed the mother on social media but she explained how difficult it was for her to go out with her child.
July 2015: Pratyusha, a 19-year-old Hyderabad girl was rescued from her stepmother Shyamala and father Ramesh, after being tortured for months. She had over a 100 injuries including cuts, burns and bruises on her body.
Sept 2017: A drunken man from Delhi’s Jamia Nagar allegedly threw his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter in the drain because he was annoyed with her crying.
May 2017: After fighting with his wife about money, a man in Jamshedpur allegedly strangled their one-year-old daughter.
May 2017: A woman in Missouri was charged with killing her biological autistic daughter, who she had given up for adoption as a baby.