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“Abuse” is a popular word these days. The contemporary culture contains thousands of books, films, songs, photographs, and paintings raising awareness of the abuse of men, women, children and animals. Yet, nothing speaks louder than facts. Statistically, since 2003 approximately four to six thousands of cases of child abuse per year had been registered by the police in Wales and England.
The period from 2013 to 2014 turned out to be a peak of this activity as the number of registered child abuse cases over that time reached nearly eight thousand (Number of police recorded ‘cruelty to children/young persons’ in England and Wales from 2002/03 to 2013/14* par. 1). The purpose of this paper is to explore the history, and causes of child abuse as well as the legislation implemented to address its cases. The paper reveals shocking examples of child abuse from earlier times as well as present days and explores the ways the modern society employs to deal with this appalling practice that assumingly has been going on ever since the beginning of time.
Child abuse has a very long history. For generations, cruelty towards children had been viewed as an appropriate way to discipline them and teach valuable lessons. Uneven power relationships between adults and children have been practiced for centuries. The laws designed to protect children did not exist in the earlier society simply because child abuse had never been viewed as an issue. In fact, children were considered as parts of property of their fathers, which seems like a natural belief for a patriarchal society of the past.
During the Victorian Era the heavy exploitation of child labor had been a normal practice. Children from the poor families would start to be viewed as suppliers at the age of seven or eight. The occupations young children performed during the Victorian times included coal mining, pottery, farming, laundry, matchmaking, and sales. Children also were employed at textile mills, ship yards, and rail stations. They worked as servants, rat catchers, chimney sweepers, and prostitutes. Average work shifts of children could last twelve or even eighteen hours. It goes without saying that hard physical labor and absence of appropriate care resulted in multiple health problems and injuries, some of which led to early death of young workers.
The first laws regarding cruelty and abuse appeared in England after 1866 and initially were directed at the protection of animals, but eventually started to include children. In the late 1800s the British crown began to enforce the principle called parens patriae, which obliged the state to care about the weak and vulnerable groups of population including children. Since that time the attitude towards the issue of child abuse has been changing year after year in favour of child protection.
Today, the society is wiser and it practices upstream approach concerning the issue of child abuse. Along with handling its consequences, the experts of various fields are trying to identify and address its causes. The contemporary sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists are aware of a number of causes that compose the basis for child abuse.
Among the general causes that may lead people to their breaking point are emotional immaturity, psychological and financial issues, unrealistic expectations, depression, lack of experience and knowledge concerning parenting, and mental disorders. Normally, an abusive person has a combination of these risk factors, but some causes are much more popular than others.
The main factors leading to child abuse are drugs and domestic violence. A household where violent attitudes frequently occur between the spouses is an ultimate risk place for a child. Often, the outbreaks of rage and aggression in adults occur due to a number of frustrating factors such as unemployment, financial crisis, and difficult living conditions. When such outbreaks are heated up by an intoxication they tend to go out of control and affect everyone around. Young children are especially vulnerable in such situations.
One of the worst child abuse cases ever registered in Britain resulted in life imprisonment for a couple who starved and beat a young boy to death. The boy’s mother Magdelena Luczak aged 27 and her boyfriend Marius Krezolek aged 34 were arrested for systematic child abuse in a form of starving and physical violence (Couple jailed for life in one of Britain’s worst child abuse cases par. 1).
The adults captured in 2013 had been torturing the boy since 2011 locking him in a room without windows, withdrawing food from him and beating him up severely. After the situation turned fatal, the couple failed to report it within 33 hours. Both Madgalena and Marius were heavy alcohol and drug abusers with criminal background and inclination to violence. Unfortunately, a number of couples matching this description is large not only in Britain but all around the world, which puts their children in need for legal protection.
In legislation child abuse includes sexual, physical and emotional aspects. A child abuser is a parent or caretaker who fails to meet the most basic needs of a child including the need for food, home, and care adequate for the child’s age, who ignores the child’s need for health care, who cannot provide education a child requires, or who deprives a child of love and emotional support (Report child abuse par. 1).
One of the frequently discussed contemporary legal aspects of child abuse is a policy concerning obligatory report of a suspected abuse in the UK. Such policy is employed in the United States, but the British legislators have been reluctant about this issue. The abovementioned case of a young boy starved to death by his own mother and her boyfriend is a demonstration of the importance of mandatory report policy as the boy continued going to school while being starved and abused, but teachers, along with neighbors and friends of the boy failed to inform the police or child protection services about the problem.
The argument against the implementation of mandatory child abuse report is the fact that it may lead to fewer children receiving protection. The Home Secretary Theresa May is convinced that once such policy is implemented, organisations such as hospitals, schools and kindergartens would start feeling pressured to report all kinds of suspicions and file multiple false reports leading to confusion of law enforcement (Hope par. 8).
To conclude, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) reports that in 2013 they have processed 18887 reports concerning suspected child abuse, provided protection to 790 children, sent out 2866 overseas reports about individuals suspected to be involved in child abuse, and captured 192 suspects (Annual Review 2012-2013 & Centre Plan 2013-2014 7).
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Child abuse is not a new issue for our society, it has existed for centuries. Today, we are aware of the problem, its causes and outcomes. Hundreds of professionals are focused on identification and elimination of child abuse in the UK. A number of services are determined to work with individuals assisting the government in abuse prevention and child protection. Reporting suspected abuse is not mandatory, yet it is a moral obligation for everyone because picking up a phone and informing the professionals may save a life of a child.
Annual Review 2012-2013 & Centre Plan 2013-2014. CEOP. 2014. Web.
Couple jailed for life in one of Britain’s worst child abuse cases. ABC. 2013. Web.
Hope, Christopher. Mandatory reporting of child abuse could put more children at risk, warns Theresa May. 2014. Web.
Number of police recorded ‘cruelty to children/young persons’ in England and Wales from 2002/03 to 2013/14*. The Statistics Portal. 2014. Web.
Report child abuse. GOV.UK. 2014. Web.