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Disrobing Child Maltreatment 

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Child Abuse

The alarming rise in the report of child maltreatment has pervaded spaces,  discourses and climes where concerns about public health, legislative, judicial,  human rights, political, media, economic, social capital, cultural and religious  systems appear frequently. While the clamour against child maltreatment seems  nascent, the subject of child maltreatment is evidently not a new phenomenon.  Child maltreatment is historical and presumably linked to culture and religion with  occurrences such as corporal punishment, female genital mutilation and child  marriage. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its 2006 publication titled “Preventing  child maltreatment: A guide to taking action and generating evidence” reveals that  child maltreatment is linked with inter-personal violence which may be physical,  emotional, sexual or negligent in nature and which can be perpetrated by anyone  with whom a child has some relationship or contact with. The obvious or subtle  presence of violence in any relationship with a child will often result in that child’s  maltreatment. Physical maltreatment involves using physical force against children  with or without an object. Emotional maltreatment revolves around activities that  denigrate children. Sexual maltreatment objectifies children for sexual pleasure  while child neglect are activities whose omission or commission deprives children  of needed care. Maltreated children will show signs of injuries, low self-esteem,  openness to and acceptance of abusive treatments from self and others, becoming

abusive in behaviour towards people, poor hygiene, malnourishment, illnesses and  fear, among others. In extreme cases, child maltreatment will result in death.  

Child maltreatment can be triggered and aggravated by reasons such high levels of  societal tolerance for abuse towards children, the low class ascribed to children in  communities, under-reporting and poor reporting of child maltreatment cases and  the absence of accessible, sufficient and effective child welfare services, just to  name a few. The World Health Organisation further states that the severity of child  maltreatment that may result from reasons as these is dependent on three specially identified risk factors. These are children’s level of dependence on caregivers, their  vulnerability which can be characterized by their weakness in ensuring their  wellbeing and their social invisibility in the society.  

Societal tolerance for the maltreatment of children will exhibit itself through  normalizing the exposure of children to violence including its interpersonal forms,  caregivers who abuse drugs, caregivers with mental health problems, the access  and use of drugs by children, questionable cultural and religious practices like  child marriage and the neglect of restrictions that can curb children from engaging  in risky behaviours, among others. The 2023 article “Tackling the normalization of  neglect” reveals that the normalization trend pervades neighbourhoods of poor  social and economic status including communities with high numbers of children  who commonly experience abuse with limited interventions. Unfortunately, with 

various forms of socio-economic constraints worsening globally, the societal  tolerance for the maltreatment of children may continue, unabated. 

The maltreatment of children is equally linked with the low class which is ascribed  to them. Typically, this can be a function of their parents’ low socio-economic  standing identified by educational levels, income levels and type of occupation. Children of these parents can be identified by their poor health condition, low  school enrolment, low school attendance, high live-in arrangements with extended  families and high participation in the child labour market. In other situations,  culture and religion sometimes present children as individuals with little 

significance in the community as they are viewed mostly as being in need of discipline and direction and other times, as individuals meant to be seen but not  necessarily heard. 

Under-reporting and low-reporting have on their parts worsened the incidences of  child maltreatment. Under-reporting can be viewed as the willful refusal to  disclose all the information that pertains to a child maltreatment case and may  involve the influence of bias in how child maltreatment is reported. Low reporting 

on its part, has to do with the reduced frequency of reporting child maltreatment.  Disturbingly, the under-reporting and low-reporting of child maltreatment have  been postulated to be caused by limited knowledge of what child maltreatment entails; allegiance to the family where the child maltreatment occurred; reluctance  or aversion to initiating investigation of child maltreatment cases by law 

enforcement agents; absence of legislation that mandates the reporting of child  maltreatment; fear of litigation; lack of journalistic expertise in reporting child  maltreatment and complicity in child maltreatment. For instance, research reveals  that journalistic reporting on child maltreatment is usually low in quality, full of  sensationalism, tends to silence victims and experts on child maltreatment matters,  focuses mainly on victims and less on perpetrators, may incite more criticisms  towards the victim than the perpetrator and lacks information on preventive and  responsive interventions. This highlights the urgent need for change in how child  maltreatment cases are reported. 

Startlingly, the reporting of child maltreatment cases becomes irrelevant when  child welfare services are inaccessible, insufficient or ineffective. In fact, no child  maltreatment case can be adequately addressed if there are limited resources for  investigation, litigation, communication, education and recuperation. Thus, 

commitment to the delivery of accessible, sufficient and effective child welfare  service in terms of qualified and trained staff, funding and opportunities to  collaborate with relevant stakeholders, remain crucial. 

Exposing child maltreatment can reduce healthcare, economic and social costs to  individuals and communities. Additionally, they can improve family and societal  functioning as it relates to child care, engender safer learning spaces for children,  advocate for more commitment and professionalism in reporting child  maltreatment and provide needed platforms for progressive child welfare service. 

Bidemi Nelson 

Shield of Innocence Initiative, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria

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