CHILD ABUSE: The wounding of the innocent to create scars that last a lifetime

Written by: Sanidi Nisanya Edirisinghe.

WHO defines child maltreatment as “the abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age. It includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results 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.” In the following text, you will find a classification of child abuse into several types and it’s prevalence in the Sri Lankan as well as the global community.

There are several types of abuse that can occur to a child, they include:

physical, sexual, psychological, financial and spiritual.

Firstly, physical abuse, it is the inhumane act of using force to cause harm to a child; common examples of physical abuse are hitting, squeezing, choking, burning and pulling their hair.

Secondly, sexual abuse, which is the use of a minor in a sexual context to fulfil one’s own or someone else’s sexual gratification. Therefore, it can entail forcing a child to do sexual acts, watch and/or mimic pornography, sexual assault and child prostitution.

Thirdly, psychological violence is harming a child’s mental well-being using verbal and non-verbal methods. This can occur in different ways such as shaming and humiliating them in public, constantly criticizing them, hurtful sarcasm, ignoring the child and even scaring the child by threatening them. This type of abuse can have severe long-term effects on the child by harming their self-esteem and emotional health.

Fourthly, financial abuse, this is when a guardian doesn’t provide adequate financial support to the child to fulfil his/her basic needs by withholding money from them or misusing them for the guardian’s own financial benefit. Common examples of this would be if the guardian forces the child to sell their possessions for the guardian’s financial gain or if the guardian wastes money on various addictions such as drugs and alcohol which leads to not enough money being available for the child’s necessities such as education, clothing and food.

Lastly, spiritual abuse, this type of abuse is when the child is treated unfairly due to the child’s or the guardian’s religious beliefs. This could include not allowing the child to practice his/her chosen religious beliefs, ridiculing the child’s chosen religious or spiritual beliefs and harming the child in any way in the name of religion this could be forcing the child to undergo genital mutilation or conducting “honour killings.”

I’m certain it is evident now, that child abuse can occur in different ways with diverse intentions, but all of these ways, in various degrees of severity, cause harm to an innocent child.

The detrimental effects that child maltreatment can have on a child’s life is varied and long-lasting. Firstly, a victim of child abuse has to live with an increased level of mental stress, this could lead to impaired development of the child’s immune system and the nervous system, which includes brain development. Furthermore, child abuse is correlated with numerous issues in behavioural, physical and mental health; which includes, depression, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, obesity and spreading violence. Moreover, lack of education is common characteristic amongst child abuse victims; according to WHO, “Children who experienced any form of violence in childhood have a 13% greater likelihood of not graduating from school.”

In addition to being aware of the great number of ways child abuse can cause harm to a child’s life, it is equally important to understand the magnitude of this problem. It is possible to do this by analysing the prevalence of child abuse cases worldwide as well as locally, within Sri Lanka.

The statistics of child abuse cases within the island can be obtained by recording the complaints that have been submitted to the NCPA (National Child Protection Authority) via the child helpline number (1929). This information is available in the NCPA website, wherein it is detailed that in the year 2019, there have been a total of 8,558 cases reported via the helpline of which the highest number of cases were reported in the Colombo district where 1,167 cases were reported, and the highest type of child abuse reported is “cruelty to children” which had 2,342 cases. It is important to note that while these values do provide an idea of the enormity the problem, it does not provide figures regarding the number of child abuse cases. This is because there could be victims of child abuse that don’t have the facility of calling a helpline or some of the victims may not be aware of the availability of the helpline.

In the global scale, according to WHO, “more than a billion children worldwide have been subjected to physical, sexual, or psychological violence in the past year;” and even more terrifyingly it is also noted that “nearly 3 in 4 children – or 300 million children – aged 2–4 years regularly suffer physical punishment and/or psychological violence at the hands of parents and caregivers.” In terms of sexual abuse, according to WHO, “120 million girls and young women under 20 years of age have suffered some form of forced sexual contact,” and “1 in 5 women and one in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child aged below 17 years.”

I’m sure it is devastatingly apparent now, the extent of child maltreatment across the globe.

Children belong to the most innocent and vulnerable group in society. To stay idly while child maltreatment continues to occur is inhumane. So, spread awareness, donate time or money to charities that support children in need. Stand up against child abuse. Let us protect the future generation, allow them to grow in a safe and nurturing environment for a better tomorrow.


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