Abuse, Child and Parents: A vicious cycle or panacea?

 By  Ms. Shalini Ranjan

And God gave an umbrella to the vulnerable, the just born ….. He gave him Parents

Society is a very small subset of the world, however it is the most important and the most influential atmosphere. Families and the society, both are separated by a thin permeable membrane – the blood relation. An individual, specially a small child, either is too small to be noticed when seen from the prism of society or a very important part when seen from that of the family.

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.

Parents are supposed to be the greatest source of encouragement, strength and safety. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be present in real life. Either voluntarily or involuntarily, maltreatment dawns upon the child through his very own parents. A poor man makes his seven year old son help him in his work to increase the number of hands contributing to the family income; a normal service class father shouts at his two year old cranky child after returning from work as he was shouted at his work place; or when a mother compares his son with his best friend in school, these are the various instances of abusing the child involuntarily. Similarly, child’s rights are both abused and neglected.

 All forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power is child abuse.[1]

The cycle of violence points out that victimized children grow up to victimize others, this cycle has been seen between various relations.[2] There are three basic relations which have far reaching effect, firstly, child abuse perpetration; secondly, partner abuse perpetration; thirdly, partner abuse victimization. All these relationships are those closest to any human being. And a person is always affected the most by the words and actions of a closed one.

Poverty is not the direct cause of abuse. However, factors related to poverty for instance illiteracy, ignorance, struggle for survival negatively impact children of poor families. Similarly, gender is also found to be correlated to abuse in India. All these are a  part of the systematic fallouts[3] where the policymakers always fail to look at the broader picture of causes and their ultimate results.

Economic Duress

As it has already been mentioned earlier, the poor families fall prey to the financial crisis and instability sooner than a financially state family. But this cannot be presumed to be any hard and fast rule as temporary poverty[4] is also a part of the human cycle. It becomes pertinent to know how a person deals with any fluctuation. Here the abuse does not stay confined to the sexuality; neither does is it all about emotions. But it is far reaching than that. There is no more a willful neglect on the part of the perpetrator; the economic conditions become too suppressing to allow him to think for the ‘rights’ and ‘equality’ of his children. The question of ‘survival’ kills all standards of expectation.

The financial crunch brings a man closer to despair. He does not know how to handle it. He might be having the will to be the savior for his family, but the loss is too much for him to be in his senses. He reacts in manners he would never have, had the situation been different.

A] Authority

A job loss, and economic slowdown; the patriarch society never taught the male to be looked at by his family as a non-resourceful, or a weak man. He would prefer having his insecurities under the veil of his power assertion; his control over the family, his ego gets a boost by such a step. Or it can also be said that he chooses to apply an inebriated person’s thoughts. The societal norms also play an important role in shaping up both, the perpetrator as well as the child’s psychology.

B] Less support and affection

With the loss of employment, a deep sense of insecurity that frustration that gets instilled in a man, deprives him of the warmth and affection which is ideally expected to be there. He becomes insensitive to the emotional requirements of others. In this manner, punishment flows from the parents without any consultation, and so does any decision made for them. The consent of the children takes a backseat and so do their likes and dislikes.

C] Marital conflict

A fight between the couples, be it often or once in a blue moon, does not leave the child, a silent witness to all, unscathed. The child might be not able to raise his voice against it or give his opinion, but from within his heart, he is hurt and marauded. A child always sees both his parents together. They are one entity for him. However, when couples are not able to solve their problems and the child becomes a witness to their dispute, he faces difficulty with the concept of love and compassion. Even the parents are not able to devote quality time to the child. This widens the gap between the child and the parents too, leaving the child neglected. The most recent example can be sited of the West, where the high divorce rates have led to serious child maltreatment issues.

D] Pessimism

Economic loss might make the parents too helpless and hopeless that they become less sensitive to the parent-child relation and their duty towards the child’s upbringing. The upbringing gets more associated with the financial needs of the child than his emotional needs, thus leaving the child unattended in a family.

E] Negative ascription

A mistake made once, multiplies by leaps and bound in a low income earning family. The child can also be tagged as a ‘problem child’ and this would bring onto him a presumption of being the menace harbinger. This will cease all means of improvement available to him. Child labour issues, illiteracy and crimes are interwoven when poverty becomes the deciding factor.

Sub-cultural Differences

These stem out from the background of the family, the culture in which a child is brought up. A girl child brought up in the state of Kerala would be more independent and bent towards equality and liberalism. However, Northern states like Rajasthan, Punjab or Haryana have still not come out of the age old gender inequality ideology, thereby showing an alarming ‘North-South’ divide in the literal sense of the term with regard to female independence and self-reliance.

Similarly, the child rearing in India is in complete contrast with that in any Western country. On one hand, where the nurturing of the child continues does not have any time limit, in the West it is motivated with the self reliance attitude from a very young age.

However, the parents do not internalize the fallacies which can be present in the societal norms. The presumption that the society made norms are always correct, and that they are the best for the child is a farce in reality. There should always be room for improvement. Presumed ‘perfection’ kills any scope of improvement and leads the society towards stagnation.

Parental Rawness

Marriage at a very young age does not give the parents enough opportunity to mature to their fullest before they await a baby. This need not necessarily include child marriages. A transition from childhood to teens and from teens to adult is not an easy task. The great transition from a single to being married and then to a parent expects to bring about a sea change transition in a one’s personality. With the birth of a child, parents’ personal life and their own requirements and leisure time take a back seat. The extra amount of time and care required by a child is not always met with a smile. This slowly leads to frustration and deep dissatisfaction about their own life. Sacrifices are expected to be made. But when parents start carving out their own time and space during the initial days of the child, the imbalance so created creates a divide of great expectations- dissatisfaction-complaints.

It has also been felt that having a child by the mere fact that it has happened and planning a child, help to smoothen the transition from married to parents. Moreover, when a women has matured enough to understand the needs of the child, she becomes a better mother as compared to someone who is way younger.

Marital Discord and Divorce

Marital discourse and divorce often either ends with the child custody case or difficulty in coping with the spouses’ child from his previous marriage. This is felt greatly in the Western countries where the divorce rate is very high.[5] This divorce and remarriage create a long chain of ‘step’ relationships. Loving someone else’s child is not a very simple task. And the same applies to the child as well. New father or a new mother, may not be able to give the child the same form of love and affection which the parent by blood will be. This firstly leads to a divide between the siblings and secondly deprives the child of love.


Adopting a child and calling it a part of one’s own family might not be very easy. Many times children are adopted but they do not receive the same love and affection which they would have had they been born in the same family. The distinction often drawn for not being one’s own blood deprives the child of happiness, love and care. He becomes emotionally wrecked.

Non Co-operating Children

Every child is not the same. A cranky and a stubborn child involuntarily ends up irking parents. The frustration builds upon more if the parents are stressed out already. In spite of various attempts made to calm down the child when the parents fail to have their way, they might lose their patience and abuse the child verbally or physically.

Where trust lays the foundation and the relationships are not chosen!

The warmth and the reciprocity of a relation make it worth living. Relations are not built upon any external factor but the emotions shared between two people. It is important for a relationship to be transparent and make communication free from any hesitation. Maltreatment does not always flow through the parents, but third persons. That third person can be anyone. Children are unaware of the danger lurking around them. A child does not move towards a snake only in Panchantantra stories. Children fall into the most vulnerable section of the society. Even the Constitution of India[6] has made special provisions for the protection and development of children.

The presumption, that the stringent laws against child abuse and neglect, is not enough to prevent it from resurfacing. It is an easy task to prepare a legislation criminalizing certain act. However, it is more important to seek one, effective implementation; two, other means to make the parents aware about the child’s rights; three, making the child aware of his own rights. Legislation is not required for it but a social responsibility, a social re-engineering. It becomes the duty of institutions of the society to take steps to prevent the pious relationship of parent and child from getting marred with ‘abuse’. The experiences of child lay foundation to the kind of person he will be in the future.

The parents should make the children aware of their own rights. Parents should give them the freedom so that children do not hesitate or fear sharing their thoughts and feelings with them. However, this can become a reality only if the parents are themselves aware of the child’s rights and their duty towards. They even need to learn that their rights are not more important than their children’s. It is often ignored that even children are entitled to certain rights and protection.

Having discussed the problem and its repercussions at length, the author wishes to bring forth a few mechanisms by which the parenting skills can be improved and the pious relation can be protected and strengthened. When we talk about the transition from ‘being married’ to ‘being a parent’, we need to learn the importance of correct guidance given to the ‘would be’ mothers and the fathers too. This first step can be taken at the gynecologist’s clinic by providing the couple with cautions required and the list of duties which awaits them. Not to forget, a proper counseling, along with the regular health check up is equally important. But this step does not end here. The counseling would continue even after the child birth and when he goes to a school. Children of different age groups and different natures, have different behavioral pattern and requirements. So it is important for any couple to understand his own child and his requirement. If the parents are not able to, then it is important for a third person to assist them. It is also important to educate the parents that children have their own distinct identity, and they should not force upon the child their unfinished dreams. This not only adds unwanted pressure onto the child but also takes away from him his own identity. Setting standards before him comparing him with his counterparts also affects the child psychology adversely.

The correct parenting skill does not have any fixed set of mechanisms to be observed, it is subject to the child’s needs. Society due to its magnanimous influence on everyone has greater responsibilities. Small workshops and awareness campaigns can be organized at schools and colonies to reach out to more and more people. Most importantly, often an aggrieved goes to the Court of Law, but here the Justice should reach out to the vulnerable. The enforcement mechanism in case of any breach should be efficient enough for the people to have faith in it.

A multidisciplinary team of childcare professional is needed for the prevention of any maltreatment, and if any maltreatment has already happened, then due care should be given to that child so that he is able to revive his life and live life free from the darkness of his past. This multidisciplinary team would comprise people from all three backgrounds- legal, social and medical. At the same time, it will require increased responsibility on the State’s part. Both the process of protection and rehabilitation require funding at a large scale from the State. The process is a systematic approach to provide the parents with counselors, to make the children aware of their own rights and then give them more options of survival and livelihood. Some form of self reliance is essential to curb the menace of abuse. The society too plays an important role on grooming the child.  Since parents are an interface for a child, it becomes more important to ensure that the children find it safe to be in the company of their parents.

The media too plays an important role in this initiative. Inspiration can be drawn from the Amir khan hosted Satyamev Jayate[7] and cast Taare Zameen Pe[8]. These not just bring forth the stark truth before us but also show us the way to an ‘abuse free’ life. The NGOs working for the prevention of child abuse, are also not able to meet expectations. As this was also pointed out by Prof.Aruna Venkat, when the NGO did not respond as it had claimed when a complaint was made to them. All this only leaves us with an option of pro-actively fighting against this odd. An abused child should not become a parent redoing his past with his child. Resurrection may not be possible; it may not be an option too. It is always a better option to prevent any misfortune from happening than looking for ways to correct it once the wrong has already befallen. The entire vicious cycle needs to be broken and the parents need to be made to realize that the child has his own individuality. The sanctity of the relationship should be maintained where present and restored where missing. Parents should be an umbrella for a child, shielding against all the odds of life, be it rain, be it Sun. thus, the probable vicious cycle needs to be broken down

It shouldn’t hurt to be a child!

[1] WHO 1999.

[2] Richard E. Heyman and Amy M. Smith Slep, Do Child Abuse and Interparental Violence Lead to Adulthood Family Violence?, Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Nov., 2002), pp. 864-870, Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3599988, (Last accessed: September 20, 2012).

[3] Neela Dabir and Mohua Nigudkar, Child Abuse: Confronting Reality,  Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 42, No. 27/28 (Jul. 14-20, 2007), pp. 2863-2866, Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4419782, (Last accessed: September 20, 2012).

[4] Available at: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_ID=12178, (Last accessed: October 29, 2012).

[5] Available at: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_div_rat-people-divorce-rate, (Last accessed: October 30, 2012).

[6] Art. 21, 24 Constitution of India.

[7] Satyamev Jayate: Child Sexual Abuse, May 13, 2012, Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY8CyTeegrM, (Last accessed: October 30, 2012).

[8]  Available at: http://www.taarezameenpar.com/, (Last accessed: October 30, 2012).

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