Overview

WHO States that nearly 300 million children, aged 2 to 4 years suffer physical punishment and/or psychological torture. Also known as child maltreatment, child abuse is one of the major problems faced by children globally. Many infants and adolescents are being subjected to different forms of child abuse, i.e trafficking, child labor, child marriages, and physical punishment.

Although child maltreatment prevention efforts and programs have grown substantially over the last century, the issues of child labor, sexual abuse, and marriages still remain major problems. Besides, since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed people into poverty rendering them vulnerable, there is a rise in instances of child abuse. There is empirical data to suggest that domestic violence against children was on the rise during lockdown phases.

When we visualize childhood, we often look at a very rosy picture full of carefree joy, the excitement of exploring new things, and living every moment to the fullest. However, that is not how the world functions. The childhood of many children across the world dwells in the dark lanes of child abuse and trauma. A lot of children across the globe grow up in the fear of abuse or the trauma of experiences they find hard to let go of.

In this essay, we delve deep into the aspects of the social evil of child abuse. We understand child abuse through statistics, discuss the various forms of abuse, and shed light on the global organizations working to address child abuse. Also, the last section of the essay has a sample essay on child abuse that can give you an idea of how you can approach an essay on child abuse. To begin with, let us shed light on some vital statistics on child abuse.

Insightful findings on child abuse & neglect

1. Child maltreatment prevention efforts have greatly grown in the current century, despite the issue remaining a major global concern.

2. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a decrease in child abuse activities, especially during the first lockdown, however, the decrease was a result of the drop in forensic examinations and interview recordings. It also pointed to the need for increased vigilance during periods of crisis (Bonvicini et al., 2022).

3. In 2021, UNICEF indicated an increase in child labor of up to 160 million worldwide, the first major increase in two decades. The organization also stated that more children are at risk due to the COVID-19 impacts.

4. UNICEF’s report also revealed that the agriculture sector is responsible for 70% of child labor, followed by the service sector with 20% and industry with 10%. Additionally, about 28% of children in child labor (5 to 11 years) are out of school.

5. On the other hand, WHO stresses that a child who is abused is more likely to abuse others once an adult, and the violence is passed on to other generations.

6. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men report being sexually abused as a child, i.e before they turned 18 years.

7. Effective child maltreatment prevention approaches include spreading awareness, teaching positive parenting skills, supporting parents, and introducing laws prohibiting brutal punishments.

Child abuse in the contemporary context

As per WHO, child abuse or child maltreatment is the abuse, neglect, and unfair treatment that occurs to those under the age of 18 years. Child abuse can also refer to any form of emotional, sexual, or physical mistreatment and neglect experienced by someone under the age of eighteen years. It can also refer to any action or failure of an adult in the leadership to meet his or her responsibility toward a minor.

The adult may be a caregiver, parent, guardian, family member, teacher, neighbor, etc. The World Health Organization in 2020 indicated that over 120 million girls and women below the age of 20 experienced some form of forced sexual contact. 3 in 4 children aged 2 to 4 years regularly suffer physical punishment and or psychological torture inflicted by their parents or caregivers. Besides, when children are subjected to child labor, they are also subjected to workplace ethical issues.

Modern times have also demonstrated a surge in child trafficking and child labor, cases that exploit children and impair their mental health among other effects. UNICEF, an agency concerned with providing developmental aid to children globally together with International Labour Organization (ILO), revealed that the number of children in child labor totaled 160 million worldwide. Furthermore, the prevalence of child labour by region and type is illustrated in the graphic below.

 global prevalence of child labour by employment type

That represents an increase of 8.4 million children in the last few years, yet more might fall victim to it due to the pinching impact of the pandemic. On the other hand, Statista indicates that more girls in the Middle East and Africa are at risk of child marriage up to 2025 due to the effects of COVID-19 i.e poverty. Worldwide, more children may experience neglect or even drop out of school due to the increasing economic hardships.

Moving forward, while discussing child abuse, it is imperative to understand the forms in which child abuse exists.

Forms of child abuse

Child abuse types fall under four main categories i.e physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect. The child abuse definition may sound like it lays more emphasis on physical, or any noticeable sign of torture and neglect, but it also includes any psychological or mental harm inflicted on a child.

Harm is defined as the detrimental effect on a child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Child abuse incidents can occur once or several times, but regardless of the incidences and magnitude, it is all treated as child abuse. The types or forms of child abuse can be explained below;

1. Physical abuse

Physical abuse occurs when a child is intentionally hurt or injured. Many physical abuse cases go undetected or unreported since they may not leave marks or even require medical attention. Physical abuse can include biting, beating, burning, choking, poisoning, throwing, or using physical restraints. Reporting and handling physical abuse cases may require citing bruises, burns, bites, lacerations, or any other skin injuries.

Studies show that head trauma is the leading cause of child abuse fatalities. Studies show that the rate of child fatalities fluctuated in the past few years and more than 1, 700 children died due to child abuse and neglect in 2020. Physical abuse is also a major leading cause of children running away from homes to the streets.

2. Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse refers to any sexual activity between an adult and an individual below the age of 18. Sexual abuse can be physical, emotional, or verbal and there are many cases when children are repeatedly abused by an adult or a person in a position of authority. It includes instances of sexual harassment, intercourse, rape, or where a child is exposed to sexual activities such as pornography, incest, prostitution, sex trafficking, and filming.

It also stretches to kissing, obscene phone calls, exposing genitals to a child, or holding them in a sexual way among others. Quite many times, children, especially girls are sexually abused by their parents or relatives and end up with unwanted pregnancies, especially in disadvantaged regions and countries.

Children who have been sexually abused normally exhibit changes in behaviors, and emotions and may also display other signs like changes in their walking styles, talking more about sex, unusual vaginal discharge or odor, withdrawing from the public or immediate relatives, etc.

Besides, it also needs to be taken into account that in this digital age, cyberbullying has become a common form of sexual abuse that children using social media or other domains of the internet are highly vulnerable to. Cyberbullying is on an alarming rise and the same is illustrated through the infographic below.

statistics on cyberbullying against children

3. Emotional abuse

Emotional child abuse refers to situations where children are exposed to or treated in a way that negatively affects their social and emotional well-being. Instances of rejection, criticism, yelling, and family violence are forms of emotional abuse. It can also result from a failure to obtain the expected basic needs, help, or support from parents or caregivers. Children who suffer from emotional abuse can also be intellectually affected and have an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

4. Child neglect

Child neglect is a situation where children fail to attain basic needs, support, education, etc. It is also where parents or guardians pay no attention to a child or fail to meet a child’s needs like food, medication, water, clothing, shelter, and supervision. Child neglect is a root cause of many habits, such as smoking, substance abuse, and dropping out of school.

Children are commonly neglected when there are marital problems or substance abuse in a home, alcoholism, or after the death of immediate loved ones like biological parents. Such issues expose children to bad groups and unhealthy living conditions where they acquire diseases and suffer several injuries. Further, there are different types of neglect that children can be subjected to. These types are explained below.

    • Medical neglect

      Cases, where adults, parents, or those in power fail to provide adequate medical care and treatment to children, are a form of child neglect. Medical or health neglect can lead to the worsening of medical conditions or the development of additional complications.

    • Physical neglect

      It can be abandoning a child or failing to provide the necessary needs like food, shelter, water, and clothing. Physical neglect is quite common and the victims can suffer from emotional and medical neglect at the same time.

    • Educational neglect

      Children have a right to education, however, instances where they fail to go to school due to their parents’ or guardians’ carelessness, it is referred to as educational neglect.

    • Emotional neglect

      Children need to feel loved, cared for, and positively supervised within a home and communities. However, cases, where a child isn’t emotionally supported by loved ones, are regarded as emotional neglect.

Going further, let us now discuss the key risk factors that are associated with child abuse.

Risk factors associated with child abuse

Child neglect can be intentional or unintentional. Sometimes parents or guardians choose to prioritize their jobs or hobbies over the well-being of their children. They fail to set aside time to take care of their children or offer the support that they may require educational or emotional-wise. Other times, parents lack the essential knowledge about the basic development of a child which leads to malnutrition.

Other times, substance abuse, alcoholism in a home, or toxic relationships can lead to child neglect. For example, some parents may choose to hang out with friends, indulge in substance abuse, or party night after night, forgetting that their children need their love and support.

It’s mostly a teacher or a neighbor who will notice incidents of child neglect. Children who are neglected have an increased risk of using drugs like marijuana at an earlier stage, alcohol, or end up in bad peer groups.

Further, the next section discusses the various causes of child abuse that are imperative to understand for offering remedial measures.

Causes of child abuse & neglect

Several causes and risk factors for child abuse have been identified, but they may highly differ depending on the region, cultural, and social factors. Some of the widely observed causes and risk factors of child maltreatment include;

1. Poverty

Many countries or regions with a high poverty rate register more child abuse cases compared to their counterparts i.e in developed states. UNICEF stresses that the extreme poverty and recurrent crises and population growth in sub-Saharan Africa have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labor over the last few years. The agency also warns that 9 million children globally are at risk of being pushed into child labor by the end of 2022.

2. Marital problems

Relationship problems, family breakdown, divorce, and violence increase the risk of child abuse. Families where parents or caregivers lack knowledge on how to handle their problems expose children to psychological issues or child abuse incidences.

3. Substance use

Misuse of drugs and alcohol is one of the major causes of child abuse worldwide. Several studies show that parents with a history of substance abuse i.e cocaine are more likely to abuse their children.

4. Mental health issues

Mental illnesses, such as depression, feeling of loneliness, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often cause parents to inflict harm on their children, knowingly and unknowingly.

5.Poor parenting skills

Parenting styles play a crucial role in child upbringing. Strict parenting styles like authoritarian parenting where parents want their children to do exactly what they say expose children to child abuse i.e physical punishment.

6. History of being abused

Parents or guardians who were abused during their childhood can abuse children unintentionally.

Besides, societal factors such as economic, social, and educational policies can lead to child abuse cases such as child trafficking and child labor. The next section of the essay discusses the various effects that are correlated with child abuse and neglect.

Effects of child abuse & neglect

Child abuse affects both girls and boys differently and it is also associated with both short-term and long-term effects or consequences. The effects can be psychological, behavioral, or physical, behavior. The harm experienced in childhood can hinder an individual from setting and working towards success, either due to low self-confidence, fears, or lack of resources. Girls are most likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, somatic complaints, and mood swings, whereas boys can suffer from both internalizing and externalizing

In general, the immediate signs of child abuse are physical injuries or marks that may be ignored or easily treated. However, improper assessment or only physical examinations may not reveal the depth of physical torture.

Children who are physically abused have higher chances of developing long-term physical deformities and health issues.

1. Physical consequences of child abuse

Cases where children are tortured or exposed to frequent beatings normally leave them with bone fractures, walking difficulties, or permanent deformities. Such children may also suffer internal bleeding and physical bruises which may stay a lifetime.

Health issues may stream from malnutrition, brain damage, and lung disease, to high blood pressure. Studies show that child maltreatment leads to brain impairment i.e in growth and function.

2. Behavioral consequences of child abuse

There are many behavioral consequences of child abuse. Unfortunately, these consequences may alter a child’s destiny if not dealt with as early as possible. Commonly, victims of child abuse have emotional outbursts, low self-esteem, withdrawal, and mood swings. They also commonly find it difficult to share their feelings with others or even share emotions. Such children may experience higher levels of loneliness even amidst large groups.

3. Mental health consequences

Mental health consequences of child abuse may be similar to behavioral issues but also includes toxic stress. There is also an increased risk of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, oppositional defiant disorder, and eating disorders.

Apart from these consequences, child abuse can also result in trauma, a salient effect of child abuse that can affect an individual for a lifetime!

4. Trauma

Trauma is a result of an overwhelming event and childhood trauma normally leaves children with different emotional and psychological issues. Generally, child abuse can cultivate a violent and aggressive nature in a child. Such a child will also grow up with trust issues, fear, and behavioral and relationship issues. A child may also end up becoming a substance user.

5. Consequences of child neglect

The consequences of child neglect aren’t far different from those of child abuse. Children can suffer both abuse and neglect at the same time. The most common consequences of child neglect include;

6. Health & development issues

Researchers indicate that a child’s brain develops up to 80% by the age of 5 and this is a crucial phase in any child’s life. Neglect here may lead to poor brain development, malnourishment, etc.

7. Cognitive impairment

Studies show that child neglect can hinder effective brain stimulation which could lead to intellectual and academic problems. Many children also end up with impaired language development.

8. Social issues

Children who are neglected have a greater risk of suffering from social and behavioral problems. Many of them are at an increased risk of substance use, delinquency, alcoholism, unwanted pregnancies, and fatal incidents.

We have covered almost all possible consequences of child abuse here which are subject to vary as per intersectionality. However, knowing the signs of child abuse is as important as knowing the causes. Having said that, the subsequent section lists the common signs of child abuse.

Signs of child abuse

It may at times be difficult to learn about child abuse cases in families since children may be intimidated by their oppressors and filled with fear to speak out. However, there are many child abuse and neglect indicators and they include;

  • Frequent absence from school without any major reason.

  • Poor hygiene or bad odor

  • Insufficient clothing and/or being poorly dressed for the weather

  • Poor dental hygiene

  • Staying out late or a preference to hang out with friends rather than staying with parents even on holidays.

  • Drug use or misuse, alcoholism, and begging for money from strangers among others.

Further, we need to acknowledge the fact that there are several organizations working at the global level to mitigate child abuse and offer rehabilitation to victims of abuse. The organizations are working relentlessly in this direction and are imparting hope that this evil can be uprooted in a worthwhile way. These organizations and their contributions are briefly discussed below.

Global organizations promoting & defending child rights

Apart from UNICEF, there are many organizations concerned with the prevention and protection of children’s rights globally. These organizations offer a range of direct and consultation services for the protection and prevention of child maltreatment or neglect. These organizations, agencies, or groups conduct research and also engage in advocacy, assistance, training, and support to families, policymakers, and other associates. Some of the major organizations taking a key role in safeguarding children’s rights include;

1. UNICEF

Established in December 1946, UNICEF is a UN organization responsible for protecting the rights of children worldwide, especially the most disadvantaged. It is the only organization listed in the Convention on the rights of children and works in over 190 countries and territories. Due to its experience and proficiency, UNICEF has managed to enter and operate in even the toughest territories around the world. Its services have contributed dimensionally to child protection rights, child law enforcement, and prevention. The organization is primarily committed to:

  • Supporting governments during the implementation of laws and policies, including professional capacity development.

  • Ensuring that the unheard voices are heard and represented.

  • Participating in different levels of monitoring processes.

  • Partnering with governments and other associates in enforcing child rights and welfare programs.

2. ECPAT International

ECPAT International is committed to working against the sexual exploitation of children of all forms. It tackles a variety of issues like child trafficking, online child exploitation, sale, and child sex tourism. It is also dedicated to educating children on their rights and human rights reporting. The organization works in over 95 countries and advocates against child trafficking and sexual exploitation.

3. International Bureau for Children’s Rights (IBCR)

Founded in 1994, IBCR is committed to promoting and protecting children’s rights in conformity with the Convention on the rights of the child. The organization operates in several parts of the world i.e Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. The organization focuses on advocating for and raising awareness about children’s rights.

In those territories, IBCR collaborates with security forces, social workers, law enforcement groups, government agencies, and other social groups to prevent or stop child exploitation, and violence, or to provide better living conditions for children.

4. Child Rights International Network (CRIN)

CRIN’s services focus on children and young people. The organization’s goal is to bring about a rights-respecting world by advocating for children’s rights globally. It primarily focuses on three core areas i.e research, artwork, and advocacy. It also provides reports and data to other organizations like human rights activists to help promote, protect, and defend children’s rights.

5. Defence for Children International (DCI)

DCI was founded in 1979 and its goal is to ensure the effective implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, at local, national, and international levels. The organization’s primary goal is to ensure that children, like other human beings, pursue a life in which they enjoy their human rights.

6. World Vision

World Vision is an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid, development, and advocacy organization, dedicated to improving children’s lives and the conditions they live in. It is currently in over 100 countries where it offers services related to child education, health, protection, faith, basic needs, and handling other issues like disasters. Through World Vision’s child sponsorship program, children attain funds for their education, healthcare, food, and other needs.

7. Humanium

Humanium’s approach to combating child abuse or any action against child rights is through raising awareness, offering legal assistance, and supporting other associates. They provide workshops where they educate children and families about child rights. Besides, they work against child exploitation, harmful cultural practices, discrimination, poverty, and violence among others.

Besides those, there are many other organizations with the same cause such as We Charity, Save the Children, and PLAN International, among others. Additionally, several programs and days like child abuse awareness month and world children’s day are observed annually worldwide to raise awareness and push for the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

All in all, the prevalence of child abuse and neglect is a global concern. Studies show that children throughout history have been exposed to all forms of violence that stretch from physical, emotional, sexual exploitation, and neglect, to cruel labor. To spread awareness, recognize children’s rights, and put an end to child abuse, the modern era has seen an increase in organizations and programs fighting for children's causes.

Many of these organizations offer different services either at family, community, or international levels. Services include awareness programs, prevention, legal assistance, child education, health, etc. Family strengthening programs focus on educating parents on the most effective parenting styles or how they can show love or protect their children from the effects of domestic violence. Additionally, these organizations like UNICEF, WHO, and the International Bureau for Children’s Rights conduct studies and provide reports to associates for the creation of projects tailored to meet specific needs like child education, girl child protection, and youth crime counteraction.

Now that we have covered all aspects of child abuse, the subsequent section presents a meticulous and thoughtful sample essay on childhood obesity.

Sample essay on child abuse

This section provides a well-written sample essay on child abuse exploring the different dimensions of it. This essay can serve as a perfect template or source of inspiration for you if you are tasked with writing an essay on child abuse or relative topics. Besides, you can check our sample essays section for discovering meticulously written essays on common academic topics.

Sample Essay: Child Abuse, the Leading Cause of Depression in Children

Introduction

Throughout history, studies have explored the different causes and forms of child abuse and neglect that children face plus the consequences that they have on both the children and the communities. Despite the efforts taken by various non-profit organizations like UNICEF among others, over 300 million children are exposed to maltreatment globally. The effects or consequences vary in severity but commonly include mood disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, and social withdrawal syndrome. The increase in child abuse has widely led to the introduction of different measures to counteract its prevalence. However, the intriguing impact of child abuse on mental health is a major concern that can’t be ignored. That being the case, this presents an in-depth essay on child abuse. Firstly, the essay will talk about child abuse becoming the primary cause of depression. Secondly, the essay also focuses on different causes of child abuse other than depression.

Body

Child abuse and neglect highly affect every aspect of a child. Many studies have also indicated how infancy maltreatment is associated with long-term mental health consequences with depression, anxiety, trauma, and PTSD “Post-traumatic stress disorder” being significant concerns. It is well-established that childhood maltreatment increases the risk of psychiatric and medical disorders (Lippard & Nemeroff, 2020). Other studies also indicate that child abuse negatively impacts early child brain development which in turn results in negative behavioral outcomes. The immediate consequences of child abuse are increased fear, isolation, and an inability to trust others. In the long run, these can develop into poor mental health and behavioral issues that increase a child’s likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors like fighting, smoking, unsafe sex, and alcohol and drug abuse.

Childhood depression that is triggered by child abuse is a serious mental health condition and it is difficult to diagnose and many times goes untreated. However, a persistent feeling of sadness in a child can point to depression. Symptoms of depression in a child can also defer but the most prevalent one is mood disorders. Other symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, and suicidal thoughts. Another study was conducted to discover the link between childhood abuse and depression in people who use methamphetamine. It was found that emotional neglect and child abuse increase the severity of depression (Chen et al., 2019). Many other studies also show that the severity of depression reflects the severity of child abuse.

The progression of major depressive disorder is affected by several factors such as the environment, genes, and personality traits. This means that child abuse and other life stressors can contribute to the onset of depression. Yet, research shows that emotional and physical abuse are primary contributors to severe depression. This is proven by the fact that cognition, and personality among other factors increase one’s sensitivity to stress in childhood and adulthood. If left undiagnosed and untreated, childhood maltreatment affects how a child perceives life and also hampers self-esteem. Later on, a child even in adulthood develops negative thinking patterns that may exist for a lifetime (Radell et al., 2021).

On the other hand, child abuse may not necessarily be the leading cause of depression in children. More individuals who weren’t exposed to maltreatment during childhood are also prone to depression. Other possible causes of depression in children include academic stress, changes at school, a negative learning environment characterized by bullying, and a lack of belongingness. In addition, chronic health conditions, hormonal imbalances, and a family history of depression can lead to childhood depression and its recurrence in adulthood. One study that involved teachers to discover the cause and the prevalence of childhood depression indicated that there is no single cause of depression in children. They also indicated that it is extremely difficult to decipher the different causes of depression, however, all teachers explained that causes can be categorized under school and home factors (Tannous, 2011). Online education is also currently being singled out as another contributor to depression in children.

Conclusion

Childhood maltreatment is associated with both short and long-term mental health consequences that can negatively impact one for a lifetime. It is cited that one in four children suffers child maltreatment and neglect. The prevalence of child abuse worldwide is a major concern and its devastating mental health consequences are currently the center of focus. Apart from mood disorders and isolation, depression is a major consequence of all forms of child abuse. Unfortunately, it is in many cases left undiagnosed and treated which leads to serious behavioral issues later on in life. More attention from child protective services and child rights organizations can help reduce childhood maltreatment and offer quality mental health care to victims.

References

Lippard, E., & Nemeroff, C. (2020). The Devastating Clinical Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect: Increased Disease Vulnerability and Poor Treatment Response in Mood Disorders. American Journal Of Psychiatry, 177(1), 20-36. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19010020

Chen, Y., Zhang, J., & Sun, Y. (2019). The relationship between childhood abuse and depression in a sample of Chinese people who use methamphetamine. International Journal Of Clinical And Health Psychology, 19(3), 181-188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijchp.2019.06.003

Radell, M., Abo Hamza, E., Daghustani, W., Perveen, A., & Moustafa, A. (2021). The Impact of Different Types of Abuse on Depression. Depression Research And Treatment, 2021, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/6654503

Tannous, A. (2011). Factors Causing Depression Among Children in Jordan: What Teachers See. Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences, 30, 341-346. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.10.067