Parent-child communication stressed to prevent abuse
KARACHI, June 21: The emotional scars resulting from any form of abuse, physical or sexual, jeopardize the development of a child and it is crucial to know what constitutes ‘child abuse’. There is too little awareness of child rights and one of the major factors that make children vulnerable to sexual abuse is the lack of communication and understanding between parents and children.
These were some of the important points highlighted at a seminar organised by the Pakistan Medical Association on Saturday. Dr Ehsanullah Syed and Dr Nargis Asad, both working at the psychiatry department of the Aga Khan University and Hospital, were the main speakers.
Explaining the various forms of maltreatment of children, Dr Asad said child abuse could be any form of injury intentionally inflicted by an adult. It constituted not just subjecting a child to harsh verbal behaviour or corporal punishment, but neglecting a child’s physical, psychological, emotional and educational needs and violating his or her rights to privacy also meant abuse.
“Any behaviour that interferes with the normal mental and social development of a child constitutes abuse. Touching or fondling with the private body parts or just observing a child while bathing or changing clothes are also forms of sexual abuse,” she said.
Further delving into the subject, she said habitual blaming the child for any mistake, withholding affection, making negative comparisons, telling the child that he or she is worthless, name-calling, belittling or shaming the child, exposure to spousal abuse, failure to address anti-social behaviour, all meant seriously risking the normal mental and physical growth of the child.
The causes of such a behaviour pattern on the part of parents, she said, could be stressed, personal history of being abused, use of alcohol and drugs and problems such as marital conflict, unemployment, lack of nurturing qualities, immaturity and difficulty in controlling anger.
Talking about sexual abuse, she said that parents must remember that sexual abuse was never the child’s fault and they should never be blamed for the offence. “Parents must develop friendly relations and tell their children that their body belongs to them and they have the right to stop if someone touches them in a manner which makes them feel uncomfortable. Also, grownups should not touch children’s private body parts unless it’s for health or hygiene purposes.”
Citing a research report on sexual abuse, Dr Ehsanullah Syed said that about 15 to 20 per cent of girls and boys from all socioeconomic groups in Pakistan were exposed to sexual harassment and abuse before they turned 18. In 49 per cent of cases, the perpetrators of sexual abuse were close relatives while acquaintances were identified as abusers in 43pc cases. Only 7pc cases involved strangers.
About how to deal with sexual abuse cases, he said that doctors’ own levels of sensitivity and professionalism were very important. They should carry out a thorough physical checkup while noting down the case history, but must avoid unnecessary probing. “The doctor should also provide follow-up care to ensure that the child and supportive family members are recovering emotionally.”