3.4 Defining violence
For many children some form of violence is a part of everyday life, and wide cultural acceptance of certain violent practices means that this is often unchallenged. While, for example, rape is universally recognised as a violent and abusive act, opinions on corporal punishment or child labour might vary significantly according to region and/or culture. As a health worker it is vital that your definitions of violence recognise all forms of child abuse.
Activity 3.1: What do you know about violence against children
- What kind of violence against children have you seen or heard about in the area where you live or work? Try to list at least five different examples of violence, and make them as different as you can.
- Who is violent against children?
If you are working in a group compare your answers with a colleague. Do your lists agree?
- Violence can happen in many forms, some more obvious than others. The types of examples you could have given might include:
- A father beating his child for urinating in his sleep.
- A mother telling her daughter that she is ugly, worthless and will never marry because she is disabled by polio.
- A girl who has been diagnosed with a food allergy, whose parents continue to feed her the same meals that she is allergic to because that is what they want to eat and they know that she likes the food.
- A teacher regularly degrading a boy in front of his classmates by calling him stupid and using derogatory names.
- A girl giving birth in a hospital being hit by the midwife to stop her from crying out.
- ‘Circumcising’ – performing genital mutilation on – a 10-year-old girl as a rite of passage into womanhood.
- A man having sex with the 13-year-old school-friend of his daughter, with the girl’s apparent consent.
- A teenage boy threatening a younger child to force him into stealing cigarettes.
- A woman, who is paid to care for a toddler while his mother works, leaving him in a pen all day while she attends to her own child’s needs.
- A teacher molesting a young boy who stayed behind for help after class.
- An 8-year-old boy who works full-time looking after his family’s herd of goats.
- It is always possible that violence can come from strangers, and this is a fear held by many parents. However, it is more common for violence to come from individuals in positions of trust, often with a duty of care, who are known to, and maybe even respected or loved by, the children they abuse. They may be parents, family members, family friends, community elders, religious leaders, care workers, criminal justice workers, employers, teachers, health workers or any other adults or young adults in similar roles. One study of sexual abuse found that the offenders are almost always known to the victim; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often fathers, uncles or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances such as friends of the family, babysitters, or neighbours.
The discussion section for the activity above gave a number of examples of violence. Did any of them challenge your own definitions? Do you agree that they all show evidence of abuse? If not, why not? These are important questions because your own views on violence and abuse will effect on how you respond to incidents of violence and abuse to children. Activity 3.2 will get you to look at this in more detail.
Activity 3.2: Your own attitudes on violence towards children
Take some time now to think about your own attitudes on violence towards children. Make a few notes under each question. If you are working with others compare your notes with your colleagues.
- Are there circumstances in which you believe some forms of abuse are acceptable, for example for cultural reasons or corporal punishment in the home or classroom?
- How has your understanding of abuse changed according to your personal development, change of circumstances (e.g. becoming a parent or looking after an aging relative) and your professional practice?
- Do you have any difficulties working with the definitions of abuse that are described by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter?
Your views have been shaped by your own upbringing and cultural beliefs and are likely to change over time with new life experiences. But we can all question our own views. For example just because something like corporal punishment is the common way of disciplining children does not make it acceptable. If you believe children need to be beaten regularly you will not be able to help them achieve their right to be protected from violence. Taking children’s rights seriously challenges all societies to think about how they treat children and question what is positive and what is harmful. By adopting the international treaties and passing laws to protect children from violence your country is trying to adapt views, behaviour and practices to reflect what we know about the harmful effects of violence against children. If you have studied Module 2 you could look back at how the law in your country clearly supports work against violence and abuse. Front-line workers like health practitioners are crucial in achieving this change – but questioning some of your own views might need to come first if you are to help children achieve their rights.
In the box below are the examples that were described in Activity 3.1: What do you know about violence against children, may be easier to recognise as abuse if we think about them under the four key headings that are generally used to categorise violence:
|Category of violence||Example||General definition|
Physical abuse covers all physical contact directed at a child with the intent to intimidate, injure or otherwise cause physical suffering or harm.
Sexual abuse of a child covers any behaviour by any adult or older adolescent towards a child that stimulates either the adult or child sexually. This often involves direct physical contact, but also takes place as indecent exposure, conversation on a sexual theme, sharing of pornography or using a child to make or produce pornography. Apparent consent should be treated with caution as children may be in situations where they do not feel they can say no.
Emotional abuse is any kind of behaviour that is designed to control and subjugate a child through the use of fear, humiliation, and verbal assault. It can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics such as name-calling, belittling, intimidation, manipulation, and refusal to ever be pleased.
Child neglect is the persistent failure to provide a child with necessary care and protection including adequate shelter, food, clothing, sanitation, medical care and education, as well as the failure to protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger. Lack of appropriate supervision, especially for young children, for extended periods of time is also classed as neglect.
Neglect may also occur during pregnancy, for example as a result of maternal substance abuse.
Key points to remember:
- Not all abuse involves physical violence.
- Not all abuse involves the victim exhibiting obvious or immediate distress.
- Most abuse is inflicted by someone the child knows.