Sunday, 15 September 2013


Some weeks ago, I was asked to present a topic like we do at the hospital every Tuesday. My topic for that week was Child abuse. During the preparation of my slides, it got me thinking about where to draw the line between child abuse and child discipline. I decided to take it to a marriage preparatory class where I occasionally give lectures and discuss with them as they are in the process of planning to get married soon and begin their families soon. I also decided to share everything with you my wonderful readers and get your opinions but first let me say the little that I know about the subject.

What is child abuse and what is child discipline?

Child abuse can be defined as depriving a child of his/her human rights- being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving making a positive contribution and economic well-being. It can happen anywhere, in the child's home, in organizations, schools or community the child interacts with. There are four types of child abuse and they include;

  • physical abuse: this is willful physical injury inflicted on a child. It includes beating, shaking, biting, burning, suffocating, hitting, poisoning (including factitious or induced illness). However, sometimes the injury may not be intention and may result from over disciplinary actions of the parent or caregivers.
  • emotional abuse: also termed psychological or verbal abuse and involves constantly blaming, putting the child down, excessive yelling at and shaming the child. It makes the child feel worthless, unloved, afraid or inadequate. This mostly results when a parent has too high expectations from the child beyond the child's developmental milestones.
  • sexual abuse: this is when the child is involved in any forced sexual activity for which consent can not be given, or is outside the victims developmental age and also violates the laws of the society. It also involves exposing the child to prostitution and pornography. It can occur therefore whether the child is fully clothed or not. 
  • neglect: this is failure to provide for the child's basic physical (food, clothing, shelter, medical care e.t.c.) and emotional (affection, attention, safety, supervision e.t.c.) needs. Failure to provide the child's needs may be due to poverty as seen in many developing countries.

Among the above listed types of abuse, neglect ranks the highest, followed by physical, sexual and emotional abuse in that order. Neglect is also the most lethal form of child abuse. A child may have one or more types of abuse occurring at the same time.

There are other forms of child abuse seen in many cultural practices in different parts of the world and they are;

  • Child labour
  • Child Trafficking
  • Child marriage (already discussed on the blog in the article "child not bride")
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Violence against children accused of witchcraft

Certain factors are considered risk factors for child abuse and they include both parent and children factors. On the part of the parent, they may be mentally or physically ill, undergoing financial stress like unemployment, abuse alcohol and other hard drugs, probably have been abused themselves, family stress, social factors like poor moral values and increased violence as illustrated on many television channels.
The child factors are abuse in the sibling or index child, mental retardation or physical disability, unplanned pregnancy, premature children, adopted or foster children.
Girls are more likely to suffer from abuse than boys, they are also more likely to suffer from neglect, sexual, and emotional abuse while boys suffer more from physical abuse. It is also stated the mothers are more likely to kill their children from neglect e.g. starvation and fathers from physical abuse.
The effects of child abuse are numerous and the list is endless starting from psychiatric illness like depression, anxiety to sexual dysfunction, juvenile crimes, prostitution, teenage pregnancies, frequent hospital visit from injuries and possible fractures to even death.

Child discipline is defined as a process of teaching the child knowledge and skills that helps them learn about expectations, guidelines and principles. It helps them discern what is right from what is wrong. It can involve rewards and punishments to teach self-control, increase desirable behaviours and decrease undesirable behaviours. The ultimate goal of discipline is to foster sound judgement and morals so the child develops and maintains self-discipline throughout the rest of his/her life.

There are different styles which parents use to discipline their children and they are

  • Authoritative parents: they use warmth, firm control and rational disciplinary style in which emphasis is placed on the development of self direction. A high value is placed on the development of autonomy and self direction and the parents assume the ultimate responsibility for their child's behaviour
  • Authoritarian parents: these use punitive, absolute and forceful discipline, they also place a premium on obedience and conformity.
  • Indulgent parents: they are characterized by responsiveness and  demand very low from their children. They are mainly concerned with the child's happiness.
  • Indifferent parents: They have low levels of both demand and responsiveness. They do whatever is necessary to minimize the time and energy needed to interact with their children. They love their children but believe that the children should live their own lives. It can become neglectful in extreme cases.

In trying to discipline your child know these tips

  • That children learn by example, watching what you do as their parents. It is not enough to tell what to do if you can't do same.
  • Set rules and consequences and stick to them. Consistency is key to effective discipline. 
  • As they grow older, try not to help them out of silly mistakes, sometimes it is good that they learn from it.
  • Don't forget to reward good behaviours when it happens
Spanking a child may teach the child that it is okay to hit when you are angry, It can lead to abuse, May make them fearful and perfect the act of avoiding being caught and may be seen as a reward for attention seeking children (negative attention)

Child turned into a soldier in Africa

Mentally retarded child abandoned
on the streets
Child with skin burn with hot objects

There is a huge controversy when it comes to child discipline. In the western countries for example, spanking a child as a way of is almost a crime if not one whereas in many parts of Africa and many developing parts of world, it is the normal thing and they children don't take it to mean anything out of the ordinary as long as the child is not hurt in the process. Personally, I can't count the number of times I was spanked for doing something wrong and I think I turned out alright. But it doesn't mean I'll use the same measures for my children. 

In some views gotten from other African parents, Many who supported the spanking method of discipline based their actions on some biblical verses. The Book of Proverbs mentions the importance of disciplining children with some of its verses e.g.
  • He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Proverbs 13:24). The contemporary English version of this verse states it thus "If you love your children, you will correct them; if you don't love them, you won't correct them".
  • Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Proverbs 23:14)
  • The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother shame (Proverbs 29:15)
I realised however that;
  • many parents who turn out to be abusive don't know that they have to teach the acceptable behaviour they want in the child to the child and not punish them.
  • many parents abuse their children out of the anger and unhappiness which may not be related to what the child is doing at the time.

I shared this topics on my Google+ page and this is a comment I got; 
before the thought of disipline even forms, never call a child.never smack a child,never devalue a child it is that simple! If you teach your child from the very beginning what is and isn't acceptable, what is right and wrong, and what is expected of them in a loving, guiding, uncondescending  manner they will learn boundaries.,respect for their elders but most importantly for themselves!  You can  teach and guide your children in a way that will not break their spirit as this is what defines them and will eventually lead them on to become the adult they are destined to be. - +nainscrafts

I want to hear your thought and opinions too on this issue. Add a comment to the blog post, don't forget to add your name and country in the comment if your are commenting as anonymous. Thanks

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