Child abuse prevalence cause for concern

child abuse
Tsungai Chekerwa-Machokoto
The amount of abuse that is happening to children is alarming and is a great cause for concern. Statistics that allude to such keep escalating and it is worrying. Abuse and neglect are intertwined. Neglect is a very sad form of abuse because it is the environment that is responsible for that and we the society, are custodians of that environment.

Child abuse and neglect affect children’s health now and later, and costs to our country are significant. Neglect, physical abuse, custodial interference, and sexual abuse are types of child maltreatment that can lead to poor physical and mental health well into adulthood. The physical, psychological, behavioural and economic consequences of child maltreatment are explained below.

Some of the effects of abuse on children are improper brain development, impaired cognitive (learning ability) and socio-emotional (social and emotional) skills, lower language development, blindness and cerebral palsy from head trauma. Abused children, studies say, have a higher risk for heart, lung and liver diseases, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Anxiety is another effect and some of them grow up to become smokers, alcohol and drug abusers

There are physical, psychological and behavioural effects.

Statistics show that in 2014, approximately 1 580 children died from abuse and neglect across the country. Abuse and neglect during infancy or early childhood can cause regions of the brain to form and function improperly with long-term consequences on cognitive and language abilities, socio-emotional development, and mental health.

For example, the stress of chronic abuse may cause a “hyper-arousal” response in certain areas of the brain, which may result in hyperactivity and sleep disturbances. Children may experience severe or fatal head trauma as a result of abuse. Non-fatal consequences of abusive head trauma include varying degrees of visual impairment like blindness, motor impairment like cerebral palsy and cognitive impairments.

Children who experience abuse and neglect are also at increased risk for adverse health effects and certain chronic diseases as adults, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, liver disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high levels of C-reactive protein.

Psychological effects are the worst in my opinion because they require a lot of attention to correct. Some of them only show much later on in life and sometimes when it is too late.

In one long-term study as many as 80 percent of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21.

These young adults exhibited many problems including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.

The stress of chronic abuse may result in anxiety and may make victims more vulnerable to problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, conduct disorder, and learning, attention, and memory difficulties.

Behavioural effects are always helpful because they are alarm raisers and children can get help almost immediately. It is important to know them so that

we are relevant in addressing them.  Children who experience abuse and neglect are at increased risk for smoking, alcoholism, and drug abuse as adults, as well as engaging in high-risk sexual behaviours. It is critically important to note some of these things so that we are aware of the causes and then we address them.

In our Zimbabwean cultures, behavioural change will be met by beating as a way of discipline and yet there could be a lot of underlying issues in a child because of abuse and neglect.

Those with a history of child abuse and neglect are 1.5 times more likely to use illicit drugs, especially marijuana, in teenage hood.

Studies have found abused and neglected children to be at least 25 percent more likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy, and low academic achievement. Similarly, a longitudinal study found that physically abused children were at greater risk of being arrested as juveniles, being a teen parent, and less likely to finish school.

A National Institute of Justice study indicated that being abused or neglected as a child increased the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 59 percent. Abuse and neglect also increased the likelihood of adult criminal behaviour by 28 percent and violent crime by 30 percent.

Child abuse and neglect can have a negative effect on the ability of both men and women to establish and maintain healthy intimate relationships in adulthood.

The effects of child abuse are psychological, behavioural and physical. The fact that abuse and neglect are intertwined, gives us the society a responsibility to keep our eyes and ears open to any signs that might present themselves so that we nip the effects in the  bud.

Our children are our future and we need to invest in them with everything we have. Surely we can’t let neglect affect the future generations. We can do something about it, and we should.

If you have any abuse to report, please call Childline and they will respond swiftly to you on their 24 hour, toll free helpline. There is a child friendly as well as victim friendly court system in Zimbabwe so please do not hesitate to report any form of abuse you are witnessing. It is your positive duty as a fellow Zimbabwean citizen.

-Tsungai Chekerwa-Machokoto can be reached on [email protected]

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