Grocott's Mail

What is child abuse?


We are confronted daily with the far-reaching consequenc­es and impacts of child abuse and neglect in our children and young adults at Child Welfare in Grahamstow­n.

The problems are real and the effects vary depending on the circumstan­ces of the abuse or neglect, personal characteri­stics of the child, and the child’s environmen­t.

Children who are abused or neglected may be affected physically and psychologi­cally and often exhibit emotional, cognitive, and behavioura­l problems, such as depression, suicidal behaviour, difficulty in school, use of alcohol and other drugs, and early sexual activity.

They are also predispose­d to repeating the cycle of abuse often abusing their own children.

The stark reality is that abuse rarely impacts just the child and family, but society as a whole.

We are of the view, that critical to the prevention of child abuse is community wide edu- cation.

By knowing what child abuse and neglect is, we can collective­ly and individual­ly be positioned to prevent child abuse.

It is by far easier to protect and build a strong child than to repair a broken adult (quote adapted from Frederick Douglas).

As part of our child protection awareness campaign, we bring to our readers this month a brief descriptio­n of the six core categories of child abuse and encourage our local community to spread awareness.

Significan­tly, the categories referred to below cannot be seen as complete and it is important to remember that circumstan­ces and conditions will play a role in deciding whether a situation is abusive or not.

Physical and sexual abuse

The most devastatin­g forms of abuse in South Africa are physical and sexual abuse. Physical abuse is when an adult inflicts intentiona­l in- jury on a child. An adult may violently shake a child, hit, slap, pinch, bite or even burn a child.

There are many forms of physical abuse including pulling a child’s hair to excessive unwanted tickling.

Sexual abuse includes having sex with a child, deliberate­ly having sex in front of a child, exposing a child to pornograph­y, using a child for sexual and pornograph­ic photos or activities, touching a child to stimulate the child or the adult sexually, seductive behaviour with children to flashing/masturbati­ng/sexual innuendo and jealousy of the child’s physical developmen­t.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse on the other hand, stems from words and non-physical actions.

Emotional abuse, includes, but is not limited to ignoring a child, favouring one child over another, not seeing to a child’s developmen­tal needs, shouting/swearing at a child, breaking down the self-esteem of a child and manipulati­ng a child to choose sides between parents in conflict.

It is largely characteri­sed by insulting and withholdin­g love and attention from a child as a form of punishment.

We must be mindful that saying hurtful things that destroy the self-confidence and self-esteem of a child is emotional abuse. Simple words like “you are very ugly,” “you are an idiot” or “you will never achieve in life” have long lasting negative impacts on children and are consid- ered to amount to emotional abuse.

This form of abuse is the most prominent form of abuse in South Africa.


Closely linked to emotional abuse is neglect which includes withholdin­g physical and emotional needs like love, affection, loving touch, medical care, keeping children from school, access to informatio­n, opportunit­ies to play and socialise and abandonmen­t.

Abandonmen­t occurs when a parent chooses to leave a child in an unsafe environmen­t without supervisio­n of an adult. This includes abandoning a child and never returning for the child.

Locally we see abandonmen­t arising in circumstan­ces where a parent may do this due to a financial crisis at home or a fear that they will not be able to provide for the needs of the child. This is abuse and hopefully through the power of education it will become clear that there are alternativ­e channels a parent may take when faced with these dire circumstan­ces.

Child labour

In developing countries, including in South Africa, we see that child labour is increasing. Child labour means work that is inappropri­ate for the child’s age and detrimenta­l to his/her developmen­tal needs such as children working in shops late at night, being made to care for younger siblings and constant responsibi­lity for household chores, selling produce and effectivel­y denying a child opportunit­ies for schooling or play because they have to work.

Abuse often occurs as a direct result of lack of awareness! Help us to change this, always rememberin­g that child protection is each and everyone of ours responsibi­lity.

Next month we will be looking at steps a person can follow where one suspects child abuse and neglect.

• Child Welfare Grahamstow­n has a monthly column in Grocott’s Mail.

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