The United Nations (UN) General Assembly established the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression in August 19, 1982 as it was focused on victims of the Lebanon war. It was later aimed at acknowledging the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse. While today, June 4 marks the affirmation of the UN’s commitment to protect the rights of children, its objective is to educate the public on issues of concern to mobilise political will and resources to address global problems and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. Hence, I’d be educating us on physical and emotional child abuse and how it affects their mental health.

Child abuse is when a caregiver deliberately denies a child appropriate care or intentionally inflicts harm or harms on a child while disciplining them. It involves corporal punishment that results in physical injuries like bruises, scratches, welts or broken bones. Physical child abuse is the injury inflicted on a child through bodily contact with a wicked or malicious aim. It can be as a result of beating, kicking, punching, biting, burning, shaking or otherwise harming a child physically. That is, it is an intentional act. It’s not physical child abuse if it’s not intentional. It’s intentional if you see it as a means of exercising control, demanding respect and proving or showing your role as a caregiver. This act is common as stated in an article in medicineNet, ‘next to child neglect, physical abuse is the second most frequently reported form of child abuse accounting for 25% of all cases of child abuse’.

When a parent or caregiver sees physical abuse as a means to show or prove an obvious fact, then, something is wrong with either the upbringing, school or environment of such child. That should be addressed not the child! A child wouldn’t do something different from their caregiver if their environment or school doesn’t give another perspective. It would be the caregiver’s fault if they are not sincere with their child. When a child who has been fed with lies from the home learns the truth outside the home, it would be difficult for such caregiver to gain back the sincerity, openness and trust of that child. This is where the upbringing should be questioned.

Emotional child abuse on the other hand is something most caregivers have normalised. They believe abusing their children emotionally is a way to be in control and if they still fail to adhere, they further abuse them, physically. However, it is the most damaging form of maltreatment which affects their emotional, mental and physical health as well as their social and cognitive development. It is an intentional act designed to control, subdue or isolate a child using fear, threat and humiliation. It ranges from verbal abuse and constant criticism; more subtle tactics such as intimidation, manipulation; neglect to not being pleased. I believe 1 in every 3 Nigerians have faced emotional abuse in their lifetime.

We are not to blame anyone because it is believed to be more cultural than normal. It’s cultural because one of the caregivers if not both were emotionally abused when they were children. Then, emotional as well as physical abuse were the means to be in control. Hence, it becomes a way of life.

Subjecting a child to fear, threat, humiliation or physical injury doesn’t only affect their performance in school but injure their self-worth or self-esteem. It becomes difficult for them to maintain a healthy relationship because they doubt themselves or see themselves in the mirror of verbal abuse rained on them by their caregivers. They might become delinquent, quick to getting angry, feel isolated, more clingy or dependent on relationships outside the home and complain of headaches and stomachaches. They might be aggressive, express thoughts of hurting themselves or others, anxious, panic or depressed. When a child show few of those, it means their mental health is being affected.

An emotionally and physically abused child feels they are not worthy or enough. Therefore, if they see one who gives them care outside the home, they embrace it irrespective of sex or gender not minding or knowing the motive of the new caregiver. It affects their mental health in that they welcome depression, fear and anxiety. They feel worthless and bad about themselves. And if care is not taken, they hurt themselves or commit suicide. And if they survive it, they repeat the cycle because that is the only way control can be gained while the next generation suffers again! It’s high time we stopped all forms of child abuse.

Everyone wants to be loved and respected. A child earns respect from their caregiver if they are being told the truth and shown love. They feel important when they are told how amazing they and their performances are. And if there is a need for improvement, they are not harshly but politely told. This means a whole lot to the child which helps them develop confidence and high self-esteem. The child won’t easily give in to peer pressure and would also be open to their caregiver if they are going through anything. This is not just the beginning of physical and emotional wellness but mental wellness as well.

As we mark the international day of innocent children victims of aggression today, let’s show love to every child in words and actions. Say good things to them. Make them feel important because they really are important and you’d see how peaceful the home would be. If they go wrong, correct them in dialogue not abusive words. Make them know what they did is wrong and why it’s wrong. Saving the child mentally begins with making their physical and emotional safety a priority. Why don’t we spare the rod in words and actions to save the children and the world?

Latoria for CLH.


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