The image of a child soldier is a difficult one. In some parts of the world - most especially in the Middle East, children are known to take up arms and be trained in such a young age to be soldiers. Seeing a young child holding a weapon as deadly as a machine gun is like looking at a deeply ominous and incongruous image of childhood. Despite the amount of abhorrence this picture may display, it is indeed an unfortunate reality that the world is facing right now. Children are becoming more and more exposed to different forms of violence. It may be true that not all of the children who experience first-hand violence are able to hold lethal weapons, but the emotional and psychological trauma they can gain from witnessing violence is more toxic than one can imagine.
More and more children are experiencing physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse, including abandonment, neglect, and death. 5 million reports of violence against children were made in the year 2000. Of that number, over 98,000 cases were treated just for sexual abuse (Love our Children USA).This number only represents the reported cases. Unfortunately, there are still unaccounted cases of violence against children all over the world. It is a regrettable fact that not every child who gets traumatized by domestic violence is given attention to. Majority of these children grow up to be rebellious teenagers, and eventually end up being a parent themselves. Having been scarred for life with domestic violence, they most likely end up being violent like their parents. And thus is a start of a treacherous cycle that is Child Abuse.
Child Abuse is a vicious loop but there is a way to end its cycle. The first thing to do in ending this dilemma is to identify and acknowledge its gravity. In order to put an end to this intergenerational transmission of violence, the best approach would be to direct action towards the adults affected by domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental illness and their young children (Knitzer as cited in Youcha). Parents who abuse their children usually have harsh back stories themselves. They often lack a support system and have little idea of good parenting. The family, being the basic unit of the society, should be an ideal point of rectification to addressing the issue of unending child abuse cycle.
How Children are exposed to Violence
Children are exposed to or experience violence inside their respective homes in different number of ways. They may see or hear their parents have a row every once in a while and witness them give each other threatening messages. One parent may be more physical and try or succeed assaulting the other. Hearing threats to the safety of their parent – usually the mother, affects the child terribly, especially if it results in physical injury. Children who were raised in a home where domestic violence is existent have bigger risks of becoming direct victims of child abuse (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network). Violence at home can take the form of one or more incidents that can have traumatic influence to the child, triggering sudden changes as a response to the daily dynamics of abusive relationships.
Children may also be exposed to violence through external sources like the media. It sets off a continuum of violence to kids from being a direct witness, to being a victim, and eventually becoming the perpetrator of violence themselves. Research has found that children’s exposure to media violence can desensitize them to violence in the real world. This effect is more detrimental for kids of very young age. A research conducted by psychologist L. Rowell Huesmann and his team has reported higher levels of aggression among teenagers who have been exposed to many hours of violence on television during their early elementary years (American Psychological Association). Children who watch shows in which violence is very realistic, recurring or unpunished are more likely to mimic what they see. Children without guidance, especially those with emotional, learning, behavioral or impulse control problems are observed to be more easily influenced by TV violence (American Academy of Child and Adult Psychology).
There is also a significant amount of research that has been done on the linkages of children’s aggressiveness and violent behavior to violent video games. A review conducted by psychologist Craig A. Anderson in 2010 concluded that there is indeed strong evidence regarding the casual risk factor that is posed by the exposure to violent video games. The review further noted that increased aggressive behavior, cognition, and affect, as well as decreased empathy and a poor pro-social behavior among children can be attributed to the long hours of playing video games (American Psychological Association).
If children are exposed to different forms of violence within the walls of their very own home, one can only imagine the amount of exposure to violence they can experience outside of it. Two of the most immediate environments which a child is exposed to are his home and his school. Since the school is considered to be a child’s second home, it can also be a second major source of influence of violent behavior. Bullying is considered a form of violence. And regardless of which side of the situation a child may be – the bully or the victim, they share equal amount of exposure to violence.
Forms of Violence against Children and its Effects
The worst thing about violence against children is that it is predominant in the real world and it exists in different forms. Some of the common forms of violence include physical assault, sexual victimization, peer victimization, maltreatment, as well as witnessing violence in the home, at school, or even on television. Some are very obvious; others are subtle and almost unnoticeable. According to a report published by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the United States Department of Justice, the categories of violence in which children are exposed to includes assault with no weapon injury, assault with weapon and//or injury, sexual victimization, child maltreatment, dating violence, witnessing family assault, and witnessing community assault (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention). Witnessing violence may include witnessing of family assault, exposure to violence in the community, incidents of shooting, and exposure to war. Cases where children may see a bruise or injury or was informed that it had occurred can be considered as indirect victimization (Child Trends).
Sexual violence is one of the most grievous forms of abuse to ever happen to a child. No one should have to go through the pain and disgrace of rape and sexual exploitation, especially not children. The impact of sexual violence to children is catastrophic. It may be true that male and female children were equally likely to be maltreated or be indirectly exposed to violence (Child Trends). However, sexual abuse to male children is more common.
Abandonment and neglect is also very common in cases of domestic violence. Some parents who are alcoholic or using drugs are incapable of caring for their children and usually end up hurting or neglecting their children. In most cases, the influence on alcohol or drugs to them is so overpowering that it takes priority over everything else. Parents with this crisis are incapable of finding stable jobs and providing for their children. They are unable to look after their children’s needs (Better Health Channel).Children who grow up experiencing domestic violence usually develop impairment in their ability to concentrate; difficulty in completing tasks including school work; and poor performance on measurement of motor, verbal, cognition, and social skills (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network). Multiple exposures to violence can hinder with the physical, intellectual, and emotional development of a child (National institute of Justice).
For kids who are in their teenage years, dating violence is very common. Victims of dating violence are reported to be more likely active in sexual activities that usually leads to early pregnancy and/or acquiring health problems linked to sexually transmitted diseases. Other risky behaviors that may be an offshoot of violence in teenage years include binge drinking, getting involved in physical fights, suicide attempts, and others (Child Trends).
Where Violence Come From and how it revolves
Most experts have a unanimous belief that children who grew up in abusive homes learn that conflicts and problems can be easily resolved by violence. Children who experienced or witnessed violence in their early years may imitate it in their teen, adult relationships and even in their parenting experiences (Sudbury-Wayland-Lincoln Domestic Violence Roundtable). Children with first-hand exposure to violence are more likely to become perpetrators of further violence than those who have little or no experience of violence (Child Trends). They may think that it is okay to use violence in relieving stress or exerting control. They may also create a notion that violence is somehow linked to expressions affection and intimacy. These ideas can have a very powerful negative effect on children in the way they behave in social situations and how they handle relationships (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network).
Aside from the physical or psychological bruises that children obtain from any forms of abuse, there are also long term effects that impact the lives of children exposed to violence. Higher unemployment rates can be observed among adult abused children than those who have no violent experiences. There is overwhelming evidence that majority of the adolescents and young adults who have become delinquents and have later develop into criminals were exposed to much violence earlier in their lives.
Most of them also came from disorganized families with poor education, and very limited opportunities” (Osofsky as cited in Youcha). Because of their exposure to violence, they tend to be full of anger, mistrust relationships, and commit road rage and other violent acts. These acts contribute to the high cost of the government’s mental health and welfare programs. If these children are not given attention to, they can grow up to be adults who will continue the cycle of aggression and violence towards children (Love our Children USA).
How to Stop Child Abuse
Every child needs a strong and close relationship with a parent or a parent-figure to feel safe and secure. This is how children develop a sense of trust. Behavior problems, aggression, and delinquency are less likely to develop in children whose parents are more involved in their lives, especially during the early stages of life (American Psychological Association).
The World Vision believes that the cycle of violence towards children can be ended. However, it would require governments to create programs and invest in proven strategies that work in partnerships with families, communities, and religious institutions. By challenging the attitude and beliefs that perpetuate the violence against children, these abuses may be ended. Everyone should be involved. No adult who has the power to obstruct any forms of violence should be willing to accept it against children on their watch. Governments should demonstrate their commitment to putting an end to violence against children by creating and implementing better laws and policies that protect children from all forms of violence.
The society should support families – especially parents and caregivers, to protect and care for their children, by establishing parental support programs and providing support services for children and families who are at risk. There should be programs which conduct home visiting for first-time mothers. Comprehensive early education and family support are also proven to have effective influence on the reduction of the incidence of violence and neglect against children (Child Trends).
Furthermore, empowering the children in order for them to develop a sense of self-preservation at a young age should allow them to feel safer in some way. Governments and communities need to recognize the key role that children play in eliminating violence. They should not only be seen as either victims or perpetrators. There is something that the children themselves can do to some extent in order to protect themselves from violence. Aside from giving the children a voice and empowering them to fight violence on their own, communities and those in authority must ensure that every child knows he or she has someone and somewhere to turn to when things go wrong. Providing them with sanctuary and a place for refuge is the government’s responsibility.
Those who are in authority should work on creating a more realistic, positive, and solutions-oriented impression while taking advantage of the influence of social media in raising awareness whenever violence against children is being discussed in media and social media (World Vision International).
Aside from the contribution of the government, there are also private entities which can offer professional help for children who have experienced violence in their homes and community. Programs such as Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy Group Interventions are designed to reduce the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and depression among children caused by being exposed to violence.
The results of this program are very promising. In fact, significantly lower scores of self-reported PTSD, depressive symptoms and psychosocial dysfunction have been observed to participants of this program. The Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools’ program incorporates cognitive–behavioral therapy skills in a group format to address symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression which resulted from exposure to violence (National institute of Justice).
The Responsibility of the Society
It is usually very difficult for children who are abused or neglected to report the problem to anyone. This is the reason why it is very important to be aware of the signs of child abuse as well as to know what it is that needs to be done to solve it. Every member of the society has a duty to report any forms of child abuse, whether a child provides information about it or even on basis of reasonable suspicion (Royal Canadian Mounted Police).
Looking at a global scale, 76% of people know of a child victim of violence, and about one third of the world population, which is about 30%, knows one personally (World Vision International).A person who wants to help a victim of abuse is best able to do so once he or she has become familiar with the challenges and personal risks posed by the problem. One must be able to consider the emotional, legal, social, and economic challenges being faced by the victim. Awareness of safety issues is very much necessary (Sudbury-Wayland-Lincoln Domestic Violence Roundtable).
In order to help heal the young and innocent children who are being exposed to violence, intercessions should prioritize the construction of resilience, strengthening of relationships, creating safe environments, helping children to cope with loss, and managing challenging behaviors (Rice & Groves, 2005).
Ending violence against children requires everyone to change the way they see and understand violence itself. Children have the right to grow in a safe and nurturing environment. They must be free of fear and free to discover and fulfill their potential as members of the society. As of now, this may seem as an incredibly improbable reality; but there is a way to overcome this almost impossible goal. Putting an end to the unending cycle of violence is achievable if all schools, communities, places of worship, parents, and governments intensify their existing efforts to stop violence against children (World Vision International).
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