Child abuse as serious as head injury

CAP is disturbed to note the number of abuse cases involving children reported of late. Toddlers being sexually abused, a stepchild apparently beaten to death, young girls raped — the list goes on.

Alarmingly, parents or caregivers are the perpetrators in many cases of child abuse. These are the very people that society expects to protect the child.

It has been said that society reaps what it sows in the way it nurtures its children. Parents need to know that abuse experienced in various forms at an early age can result in negative and lasting effects to their child’s brain development and future function.

Scientists have found that the brains of abused, or unloved and neglected children look different and respond differently from those who have had a more stable early childhood.

A leading psychologist at University College London, believes that early abuse or even unintentional poor parenting can be as serious and enduring as a head injury.

Dr Bruce Perry, a child psychiatrist at the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, found that the brains of neglected children were smaller than normal. Perry was quoted saying that the human brain develops very early in life, and if a child is ignored or abused, the brain areas that respond to stress will proliferate, while the parts of the brain related to healthy emotions remain underdeveloped. As a result, children can perceive everything around them as a threat and act impulsively, sometimes even violently.

This would probably explain why some youngsters, and adults, respond totally out of proportion when faced with some minor threat or violation of their rights.

It is critical to prevent child abuse and neglect before it does irreversible harm. In many instances, relatives, friends and teachers are aware that some form of abuse of the child is taking place, but are usually reluctant to speak up or take action on the child’s behalf.

People around, especially relatives and close friends, cannot always leave the welfare of children to parents alone, saying it is none of their business. This is because some people are simply not suitable to be parents and they inflict grave, often irreversible damage on their children.

Just speaking out immediately about what is happening to a child and bringing it to light is a critical step. This will let the perpetrators know that they cannot continue with the abuse — in the false security that nobody is aware of what is really going on.

It was reported recently in the press that a quarter of the 10 million children in Malaysia are believed to be victims of sexual abuse. However, of these over 2 million cases, only about 3,000 cases a year are reported to the police. This situation should not be allowed to persist at the expense of innocent victims.

If abuse or gross neglect is suspected, the case should be reported immediately to the relevant people who can help — before more harm is done. Those responsible for taking action should ensure that their acts do in fact help the child, and not cause more trauma and distress.