By = Tristan A. Arts
All over the world, children are abused by family members and by peers on an epidemic scale. Some only face the abuse from their peers, persons going by the name of “bullies.” Others, have the worse fate of their parents, guardians, family friends, or other family members committing the abuse. Since bullying is not considered by most people to be as serious a problem as child abuse by adults (even though its effects can be just as devastating as child abuse by adults), there are incomplete statistics about bullying and its effects. Yet both adult and peer abusers are bullies; the difference lies in who is doing the abusing. Because of this, one can get a close approximation of the prevalence of bullying by looking at the statistics for child abuse by adults.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition, defines a bully as “A person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people.” This also makes a very good definition for “abuser,” as the definition fits both very well. Abusers, after all, are just adult bullies; they harm smaller and weaker people in a cruel and habitual way. However, there are two different types of abusers, where there is only one type of bully. The first type of abuser mistreats their victims on purpose, often to try to make themselves feel better. In this way, they are more like bullies. The second type of abuser is someone who is emotionally unequipped to deal in a proper and compassionate manner.
Both types of abusers share several things in common, though. For one thing, it is well reported that many children who are abused at home become bullies because they suffer from low self esteem and only know one way to try to raise it—they become abusers of their peers. Abuse both by adults and by peers causes psychological developmental problems, increased probability of criminal behavior including becoming abusers, and many other negative long-term consequences besides.
Abuse is a more serious matter than many people may realize, for it is not just physical and psychological harm that is being done. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports that child abuse leads to roughly 35,000 known deaths each year in developed nations such as the United States, England, Canada, and France. Even in cases where death does not occur, abuse has deep and lasting impacts on the child’s physical and mental health, such as their ability to learn and their willingness to go to learn or to even go to school. It destroys self confidence, can make them unable to be good parents themselves, causes depression and suicide attempts, and can even give them cause to run away from home, thereby exposing themselves to even greater dangers.
All sources about child abuse report that official statistics are incomplete due to many factors. The Crimes Against Children Research Center reports that for every one child abuse case with enough evidence to substantiate it, there are two cases that do not have the required evidence. Why is this happening? The factors contributing to this discrepancy include such things as the victim’s shame and guilt, the victim’s belief that the crimes are their fault, fear of retribution from the abuser (or from their own family, in some cultures), the victims showing little or no outward signs of the abuse, non-abusing adults choosing to ignore the abuse or call it simple discipline, and in some instances the abused and abusers move frequently.
Child abuse is also not confined to any one sort of country... it crosses all boundaries of race, religion, culture, and economic conditions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 40% of minors age 15 and below suffer from some type of abuse or neglect. In India, many mothers admit hitting their children with varying objects, kicking their children, pulling their hair, putting hot peppers in the children’s mouths, or hitting the children with fists. In the United States, only 5% of those queried admitted to using similar means of “discipline,” and many even reported threatening their children with guns or knives. Egyptian youths, about 37 percent, report being beaten or tied up by their parents. Many of them also reported getting from their abuse injuries such as fractures, loss of consciousness, or permanent disabilities. And superstitions about the HIV virus in Africa have led many to commit sexual offenses against children as young as nine months old, in the mistaken belief that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS; South African police report at least 21,000 of such cases, with only 1 in 36 cases being reported to them.
Worldwide, there are also types of abuse happening in some cultures that don’t happen in other cultures, such as those of the United Kingdom. For example, many cultures in Africa practice female genital mutilation. This is defined as the surgical removal of the clitoris and sometimes the rest of the external female genitalia. In Africa, between 100 and 130 million females live have had their genitalia mutilated in this way. The ultimate reason for this practice is the desire of men to control the women, even though the procedure is usually done by the women of the tribes. Excuses for this practice vary with the cultures and tribes, but the effects are the same: reduction of female sexuality, pain and trauma, scarring, and deep psychological damage. Dangers posed by this procedure, according to UNICEF, include “death through severe bleeding leading to haemorrhagic shock, neurogenic shock as a result of pain and trauma, and severe, overwhelming infection and septicaemia,” as well as “failure to heal; abscess formation; cysts; excessive growth of scar tissue; urinary tract infection; painful sexual intercourse; increased susceptibility to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases; reproductive tract infection; pelvic inflammatory diseases; infertility; painful menstruation; chronic urinary tract obstruction/ bladder stones; urinary incontinence; obstructed labour; increased risk of bleeding and infection during childbirth.”
Another example of the abuses arising in different cultures is the practice of young marriage. Countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Islamic countries continue this tradition, though in most countries this only happens in rural areas. Early marriages happen primarily to girls, and are often done to ensure her obedience and to extend the amount of time she has to produce children. Child spousal abuse is also very common in these cases. Furthermore, if the marriage is arranged and the child disobeys, the parents may punish the child. This punishment also happens to older children, especially if they have been having an affair with or been raped by a man who is not their spouse. Within the Islamic culture, for example, the practice of “honor killing” is invoked if any of these perceived disobediences happens. An “honor killing” is when the parents punish the child for their disobedience by killing the child. In cultures where this is practiced, there is no punishment against the family for the murder of the child, if it was said to be an honor killing.
Another form of child abuse in the world, that is not seen very often in developed countries, is child labor. UNICEF estimates that around 246 million children worldwide are forced to work, often in conditions that adults in developed nations like the United States couldn’t even imagine working in. Around 171 million of these children work in dangerous places such as mines, or use chemicals such as pesticides, or work on or around dangerous heavy machinery. Because of the views of the most powerful countries in the world as well as the United Nations, most child laborers are hidden from view, working in homes, factories, and plantations. Not only is the work itself – which pays poorly, if at all – a form of abuse, but the labor puts children in very vulnerable positions where they can be abused by the adults they work for, especially the millions of girls working as household servants. Also, many children are sold into slavery by their poor families, or kidnapped and forced to work as slaves. Even more dangerous, many children are forced to become soldiers in wars that are often fought because of diamonds, drugs, oil, slave smuggling, or other high profit (and usually illegal) endeavors. But the world’s children are definitely not the ones profiting from these activities, if anyone is.
And all of this because adults, who are bigger and stronger, are so often bullies over the children, who cannot defend themselves as well as an adult might.
It’s obvious that the world is full of violence and abuse against children, all because humans have a tendency to bully those weaker than they. Children are being taken advantage of worldwide in many different ways. Not enough is being done, and this is because many people believe that there is very little they can do to help it. So they grow apathetic, and shut out the voices of the weak and abused, the voices of those who most need to be heard. There is so much evil going on in the world that many tend to think it will never be cured. That, however, is where they’re wrong. Every little bit helps. Every triumph against injustice helps make a better world. Just look at the developed nations and how far they’ve come. No one is free of evil, but if we all do something – even if it’s just spreading the word or donating to organizations like UNICEF – we can make things even better. Who knows, in time the whole world may be as rich in human rights and standard of living as countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and the United States are. Yet even if we don’t live to see that great day, we can go down in history as one of the many people who helped in their own way to save the children and, ultimately, ourselves.