One of the most distressing violations of children's rights is child abuse.
Child abuse is not only the sexual abuse of children but is any hurt to a child. Children can be hurt physically and emotionally in various ways particularly through neglect of their need for love and attention. They can be abused intellectually when their need of mental development is not met.
But a child is also a whole person, and any form of abuse affects him or her emotionally, in cognitive thinking ability and also in his or her physical powers. For example, a child who has been burnt, deliberately, with boiling oil, by an adult in the home, has severe physical injuries and is also emotionally traumatised, and as a result cannot think clearly and regresses intellectually.
When you suspect something is wrong
Remember that these symptoms can also be the signs of other problems - bullying, for example, or bereavement in the family, or a new baby, or even a loss of hearing due to an infection.
Physical warning signs of sexual abuse:
These symptoms can also be the signs of other problems and not just abuse - an infection, for example. Or there may not be any obvious sign of abuse but you feel instinctively that something is not right. In any of these cases you should talk to ChildLine, a social worker or mental health professional. You have a legal obligation to report any suspected child abuse.
It is equally important to report a person if you suspect they are abusing children. Many perpetrators can be helped and all should be stopped one way or another
Be watchful and ready to hear about abuse
Families and caring adults should show that they are open and ready to listen to children. A child who needs help or who knows of a friend who needs help will often make tentative remarks to see if the adult is sympathetic. If the adult cuts them short they will not continue, but if the adult is encouraging, the full story will gradually emerge (often over several days).
When a child talks to you about a trauma
Helping a child talk
Children have the right to be safe and protected and adults may not abuse them.
Identifying a child who needs expert help:
There are cases of trauma that a loving parent or knowledgeable teacher cannot help on their own. These are children that do not improve or 'get over' the trauma and after several months still cannot function normally at home or at school. The outward signs of trauma remain severe several months later: such as acute depression, severe antisocial and aggressive behaviour, prolonged bouts of weeping, refusal to leave the home, anxiety attacks and flash-back episodes where the survivor relives the trauma (waking nightmares).
These children need to be referred for help to a therapist, psychiatric social worker or nurse, psychiatrist, qualified school counsellor or other professional. More information is available from DCI-Zimbabwe on mobile + 263 772 393 571.