Despite great strides being made to prevent child abuse in the United Kingdom, cases still occur regularly each year. This unfortunate social problem requires careful examination and  the attention of many experts each year, but it remains an intensely important cause. The prevention of child abuse is just as important as the prevention of disease and injury, and it deserves as much attention, if not more.

The Socialist Health Association plays an important role in the prevention and response to child abuse in the United Kingdom. As an organisation that attends to social issues, the SHA sees first-hand how many other issues relate to child abuse. Even issues like poverty and stress can impact child abuse statistics.

What is Child Abuse?

When most people think of child abuse, they think of physical violence perpetrated against a child, but child abuse can be much more than physical assault. Generally, abuse that is perpetrated against children falls under four main categories:

  • Emotional or mental abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect

Emotional or mental abuse can include:

  • Humiliation or constant criticism
  • Degradation, including within punishment
  • Demanding that children succeed always
  • Being inappropriately controlling
  • Exposing children to violence
  • Exposing children to adult situations
  • Constant insulting of the child
  • Ignoring
  • Parental absence
  • Neglecting to foster positive emotional development
  • Exposing children to fights or arguments

Physical abuse may include:

  • Hitting, punching, kicking, or slapping
  • Pushing or shoving
  • Bruising
  • Hitting with closed fists or objects
  • Burning
  • Scalding
  • Making children ingest soap, spices, or other noxious substances
  • Switching
  • Caning
  • Drowning
  • Suffocating
  • Any other violent action taken against a child

Sexual abuse may include:

  • Inappropriate touching
  • Exposing children to pornography
  • Cohercing children into sexual acts
  • Exposing genitals
  • Encouraging children to engage in sexual acts
  • Discussing sex inappropriately with children
  • Engaging in sexual activity in front of a child

Neglect can include:

Please note that these categories are not exhaustive; because of the nuances and subtleties to many child abuse cases, it is possible that abuse can also encompass other harms perpetrated against children.

Who is Susceptible to Child Abuse?

All children can be susceptible to child abuse, although some minority groups are more susceptible than others. Children who are unable to stand up for themselves or speak up are at the highest risk for abuse, both from parents and from other adults within their lives, but this doesn’t mean that older children do not experience abuse.

Children who are mentally or physically handicapped are at greater risk for abuse. This may be simply because they are unable to articulate abuse or defend themselves, or it may be because they require a higher level of care. According to this Ofsted report on disabled children and child abuse, disabled children are at an even higher risk for “slipping through the cracks” of the child protection services in place in the UK.

What Can be Done About Child Abuse?

Solving child abuse as a societal problem requires attention to all of the issues that contribute to it. These issues may include:

  • Poverty
  • Drug addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Health issues
  • Mental health issues
  • History of abuse in the family
  • Lack of parenting skill or knowledge
  • Age
  • Community support
  • Financial issues
  • Domestic violence in the home

As you can see, a great many issues contribute to the prevalence of child abuse. For more information on the legalities of approaching this issue are available from advisers at Co-op Legal Services.

As a society, the process to solving child abuse starts with being aware of it and spreading knowledge of what it is and how it occurs. This is done through public education measures.

Additionally, we must make room for responding to abuse on a case-by-case basis. While the police certainly can handle child abuse cases, the  National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)  handles child abuse investigations, foster care, and adoptions.

Child Abuse Statistics

Each year, the NSPCC evaluates its records and releases statistics on child abuse and domestic abuse in the United Kingdom. In 2012, their report stated that there were 50,573 children on child protection registers or child protection plans. The measurement was taken at the end of March 2012.

They also estimated that nearly 25 per cent of children were mistreated during their childhood; childhood is said to be anything under the age of 18. While this is a startling number, it is likely that the real number is somewhat higher than this, as child abuse sometimes goes unreported. This statistic is a reminder of the importance of education and protective measures to be available.

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