Child abuse is one of the most dangerous and serious problems confronting society, perhaps because of the helplessness and innocence of the victims. What is particularly bothersome about child abuse is that it occurs in all income, racial, religious, and ethnic groups and in urban and rural communities. Likewise, there is no uniform definition of what constitutes child abuse, making it difficult to ascertain what prevention and treatment methods are most effective. For example, in Sweden, the law prohibits any physical punishment of children, including spanking. By contrast, in some countries of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, parents are expected to punish their children by hitting them.
This paper analyzes and examines the multitude of issues related to child abuse. Part II defines child abuse. In Part III, a history of child abuse is offered. Part IV evaluates why child abuse exists according to control theory and anomy theory. In Part V, how socialization agents such as educational/school systems, family, mass media, and peer groups may intervene to eliminate or reduce the occurrence of child abuse is outlined. Part VI reviews the consequences for society/social institutions and future generations if child abuse is not eliminated or reduced.
II. DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM
The primary federal legislation addressing child abuse and neglect is the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) which was originally enacted in 1974 and which has been amended and reauthorized numerous times. One of the key elements of CAPTA is that it provides federal funding to states in support of assessment, investigation, prevention, prosecution, and treatment activities and also provides grants to nonprofit organizations and public agencies for demonstration programs and projects. In addition, CAPTA establishes the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, identifies the federal role in supporting data collection activities, evaluation, research, and technical assistance, and mandates the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information.
CAPTA also sets forth a minimum definition of child abuse and neglect. Under CAPTA, child abuse and neglect is defined as, at a minimum: (1) any recent act or failure to act on the part of a caretaker or parent which results in death, serious emotional or physical harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or (2) an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm. There are four major types of maltreatment: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. While State definitions may vary, the following operational definitions provide a reasonable guideline.
Physical abuse is characterized by the infliction of physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning, shaking or otherwise harming a child. The caretaker or parent may not have intended to hurt the child; rather, the injury may have resulted from over-discipline or physical punishment.
Child neglect is characterized by failure to provide for the child's basic needs. Neglect may be physical, educational, or emotional. Physical neglect includes refusal of, or delay in, seeking health care; abandonment; expulsion from the home or refusal to allow a runaway to return home; and inadequate supervision. Educational neglect includes the allowance of chronic truancy, failure to enroll a child of mandatory school age in school, and failure to attend to a special educational need. Emotional neglect includes such actions as marked inattention to the child's needs for affection; refusal of or failure to provide needed psychological care; spouse abuse in the child's presence; and permission of drug or alcohol use by the child. The assessment of child neglect requires consideration of cultural values and standards of care as well as recognition that the failure to provide the necessities of life may be related to poverty.
Sexual abuse includes fondling a child's genitals, intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, exhibitionism, and commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials. Many experts believe that sexual abuse is the most under-reported form of child maltreatment because of the secrecy or "conspiracy of silence" that so often characterizes these cases. Emotional abuse includes acts or omissions by the parents or other caregivers that have caused, or could cause, serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders. In some cases of emotional abuse, the acts of parents or other caregivers alone, without any harm evident in the child's behavior or condition, are sufficient to warrant child protective services (CPS) intervention. For example, the parents/caregivers may use extreme or bizarre forms of punishment, such…