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All children are born to grow, to develop, to live, to love, and to articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection. Although growing up can be difficult, most children and young people receive the love and care they need to develop into healthy, happy young adults. For their development children need the respect and protection of adults who take them seriously, love them, and honestly help them to become oriented in the world. But some children are hurt, neglected and used by adults or other children. Younger children may not be aware that what is happening to them is abuse. Abuse can mean different things to different children, and can happen once or many times during childhood.

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Child abuse can be defined as any behavior directed towards a child by a parent, a guardian, other family member or another adult that endangers or impairs a child’s physical or emotional health or development. The major forms in which child abuse can take place are

  • Physical abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • Emotional abuse

  • Neglect

Physical abuse is... when children are hurt or injured by parents or other people. Hitting, kicking, beating with objects, throwing and shaking are all physical abuse, and can cause pain, cuts, bruising, broken bones and sometimes-even death.

Sexual abuse is ... when children are forced or persuaded into sexual acts or situations by others. Children might be encouraged to look at pornography, be harassed by sexual suggestions or comments, be touched sexually or forced to have sex against their wishes.

Emotional abuse is ... ... when children are not given love, approval or acceptance. They may be constantly criticized, blamed, sworn and shouted at, told that other people are better than they are and rejected by those they look to for affection.

Neglect is ... when parents or others looking after children do not provide them with proper food, warmth, shelter, clothing, care and protection.




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The key issue connected with the content or substance of African traditional religion revolves mainly around the kind of questions that should be given prominence in research.

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Children may exhibit a wide range of reactions to exposure to abuse. Younger children (e.g., preschool and kindergarten) oftentimes, do not understand the meaning of the abuse they observe and tend to believe that they "must have done something wrong." Self-blame can precipitate feelings of guilt, worry, and anxiety. It is important to consider that children, especially younger children, typically do not have the ability to adequately express their feelings verbally. Consequently, the manifestation of these emotions are often behavioral. Children may become withdrawn, non-verbal, and exhibit regressed behaviors such as clinging and whining. Eating and sleeping difficulty, concentration problems, generalized anxiety, and physical complaints (e.g., headaches) are all common.

Unlike younger children, the pre-adolescent child typically has greater ability to externalize negative emotions (i.e., to verbalize). In addition to symptoms commonly seen with childhood anxiety (e.g., sleep problems, eating disturbance, nightmares), victims within this age group may show a loss of interest in social activities, low self-concept, withdrawal or avoidance of peer relations, rebelliousness and oppositional-defiant behavior in the school setting. It is also common to observe temper tantrums, irritability, frequent fighting at school or between siblings, lashing out at objects, treating pets cruelly or abusively, threatening of peers or siblings with violence (e.g., "give me a pen or I will smack you"), and attempts to gain attention through hitting, kicking, or choking peers and/or family members.

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In 1962, C. Henry Kempe conducted a survey of eighty-eight hospitals in which he identified 302 children who had been "battered." The survey, which for the first time defined the "battered child syndrome," graphically catalogued brutality to young children, many of whom suffered multiple injuries. By 1976, child abuse reports had risen to more than 669,000, and, by 1978 to 836,000. By 1992, almost three million reports of child abuse were filed nationwide, including 1,261 child-abuse-related fatalities. If current trends continue, it is projected that more than 4 million children will be reported for abuse annually by the year 2002.
Studies of the incidence of physical and sexual violence in the lives of children suggest that this form of violence can be viewed as a serious public health problem. State agencies reported approximately 211,000 confirmed cases of child physical abuse and 128,000 cases of child sexual abuse in 1996. At least 1,200 children died as a result of maltreatment. It has been estimated that about 1 in 5 female children and 1 in 10 male children may experience sexual molestation


Studies indicate that every day a significant number of children are exposed to serious maltreatment and neglect leading to physical and psychological injury and serious long-term consequences. Researchers are continuously examining the wide range of potential consequences of child abuse and neglect. Mounting evidence suggests that, in addition to the immediate negative effects on children, maltreatment is associated with a host of problems manifested in adolescence and adulthood. Child abuse is not, however, a short-term crisis in a child’s life. Although children are removed from violent homes or leave home to live on their own, the effects of experiencing abuse in their childhood follow them through life. Child abuse can affect all aspects of a child’s life and can spill over in there adult life as well. Effects of child abuse include the following:


Child abuse may permanently alter the psychological well being of a child. Following maltreatment, children are known to display the following problems:
• Extreme and repetitive nightmares.
• Anxiety.
• Unusually high levels of anger and aggression.
• Feelings of guilt and shame – for sexually abused victims this can be quite severe, especially if the victim experienced some degree of pleasure during part of the abuse.
• Sudden phobias, such as a fear of darkness or water.
• Psychosomatic complaints, including stomachaches, headaches, hypochondriasis, faecal soiling, bed wetting and excessive blinking.
• General fearfulness and a specific fear of others of the same gender as the abuser.
• Depressive symptoms, long bouts of sadness, social withdrawal.
• Self-reported social isolation and feelings of stigmatization..
After continued exposure to maltreatment, children may develop further psychological complications:
• Significant increase in rates of psychiatric disorders.
• Dissociation, intrusive thoughts, suicidal ideation and more acute phobias.
• More serious levels of anxiety fear depression, loneliness, anger, hostility and guilt.
• Distorted cognition, such as chronic perceptions of danger and confusion, illogical thinking, inaccurate images of the world, shattered assumptions about the world and difficulty determining what is real.
• Decreased effectiveness in comprehending complex roles.

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In addition to the obvious physical injuries, such as broken bones, bruises and scarring, abuse is also related to several additional physical complications for children, including the following:
• Children who have suffered serious and chronic neglect are more likely to be smaller and lighter than non-maltreated children, which has been shown to affect long-term health.
• Children who are physically abused (or shaken in the case of very young children) may suffer permanent neurological damage, dramatically affecting their future development.
• Weight problems – often emerging as eating disorders.
• Serious sleeps disturbances and bouts of dizziness when awake.
• Other stress-related symptoms, such as gastrointestinal problems, migraine headaches, difficulty breathing, hypertension, aches, pains and rashes which defy diagnosis and/or treatment.
• Poor overall health.


Abused children are known to display the following behavioral problems:
• Developmental delays.
• Clinging behavior, extreme shyness and fear of strangers.
• Troubled socialization with peers – constant fighting or socially undesirable behaviors, such as bullying, teasing or not sharing.
• Poor school adjustment and disruptive classroom behavior.
There is a growing understanding among researchers that child maltreatment is associated with a host of behavioral problems that manifest themselves in adolescence:
• School-age pregnancy.
• Self-destructive behaviors such as self-mutilation or burning.
• Truancy and running away behavior.
• Delinquency and prostitution.
• Early use of drugs/alcohol and substance abuse/dependence.
• Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia or obesity – primarily among female victims.
• Suicide and suicide attempts.
Evidence suggests that many of these problems continue into adulthood and become ingrained patterns of behavior. It is believed that in order to deal with the trauma of being abused and neglected, children and youth develop such behaviors as coping strategies. And although these behaviors eventually become self-destructive, they are often extremely difficult to abandon.


One of the most destructive consequences of child abuse may be the detrimental effect on a child’s school performance. Over and over again, research indicates that abused children demonstrate reduced intellectual functioning and perform very poorly in school. And poor school performance can have serious long-term consequences. Academic failure has been associated with antisocial behavior and quitting school. These behaviors in turn increase the risk of long-term decreased productivity, long-term economic dependence and generally lower levels of satisfaction with life as adults.58 Maltreated children may display the following:
• Lower overall schools performance test scores and lower language, reading and math scores.
• Grade repetitions, disciplinary referrals and a high number of suspensions.
• Working and learning at below average levels (as reported by teachers).
• Weaker orientation to future vocational and educational goals compared to non-maltreated children.
It is understandable that maltreated children will perform poorly in school. Not only do they face the obvious complications associated with a violent home life, but neglectful and abusive parents are less likely to provide an intellectually stimulating environment for the child, read to the child, supervise homework and generally become involved in their child’s academic life.


In general, abuse adversely affects a child’s concept of sexuality reduces his or her ability to set appropriate boundaries and often instills a fear or negative perception of sex. While the majority of sexual consequences are the result of sexual abuse, other forms of maltreatment can also be sexually destructive. For example, a neglected child may seek sexual intimacy very early in life in order to fulfil an unmet need for parental intimacy. This creates a risk for teenage pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. The following are the major sexual consequences of maltreatment reported in the literature:
• Engaging in open or excessive masturbation, excessive sexual curiosity and frequent exposure of the genitals.
• Simulated sexual acts with siblings and friends, inappropriate sexual behavior such as breast or genital grabbing.
• Premature sexual knowledge sexualized kissing in friendships and with parents.
In adolescence and adulthood, maltreated children continue to display sexually maladaptive behavior:
• Orgasmic disorders and painful intercourse.
• Promiscuity.
• Dissatisfaction with sex and negative attitudes about sex.
These problems are often the result of introducing a sexual component into a parent-child relationship, which affected the child’s sense of sexuality and intimacy. In essence, a child who has suffered sexual abuse can, as a result, have difficulty distinguishing between a sexual and a non-sexual relationship and therefore introduce a sexual element into all relationships.


Child abuse can interfere with a person’s ability to develop meaningful and appropriate relationships from childhood through to adulthood. Abused and neglected children are consistently rated by their peers as demonstrating socially undesirable behavior. Children displaying multiple psychological and behavioral problems often have a difficult time both developing and maintaining healthy relationships. Victimization reduces social competence and limits empathic ability, both of which are necessary to establish satisfying relationships with others. Maltreated children have been known to display the following interpersonal problems:
• Insecure attachments to parents and caregivers.
• A loss of close friends.
• Difficulty in trusting others.
• Relationship problems, such as overly sexualized or overly conflicted relationships.
• Chronic dissatisfaction with adult relationships and fear of intimacy.


Parental abuse undoubtedly affects the self-esteem of a child. A lack of interest in a child or a violent attack on a child, for example, will likely lead the child to develop a sense of unworthiness. Maltreatment has been associated with distorted or extremely negative self-images starting in childhood and continuing throughout one’s life. Maltreated children typically view themselves as bad, worthless or unlovable and may develop the following problems:
• Extremely low levels of self-esteem.
• Feelings of being “out of control”.
• Inaccurate body images which often lead to eating disorders.
• Overwhelming sense of guilt or self-blame for the abuse.
• Impairment of a cohesive sense of identity.
• Self-disgust, self-denigration, self-hatred. 

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Often, children who have been abused and neglected report having lost their sense of faith, not just a religious belief in a divine being, but also their faith in themselves, other people and the world around them. It is common for maltreated children to display what some authors have called a shattered soul or soul pain. Moreover, adults who have experienced maltreatment display less interest and participation in organized religion. Systematic battering, sexual abuse, emotional attacks or the long-term neglect of a child is likely to destroy his or her spirit or enthusiasm for life. While often overlooked in the literature, the shattered soul may prove to be an extremely significant long-term consequence of child maltreatment.


Victims of child abuse often become further victimized as adolescents and adults and/or become violent themselves toward their own children and in intimate relationships. According to studies on the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment, one third of all victims grow up to continue a pattern of seriously inept, neglectful or abusive child rearing as parents; one third do not; and one-third remain vulnerable to the effects of child maltreatment depending upon social stressors in their life. Adults and adolescents who report a history of child maltreatment may demonstrate the following:
• Maltreatment of their own children.
• A history of being a victim of a violent assault by a non-family member during adolescence.
• Perpetrating dating violence in adolescence and/or spousal violence in adulthood.
• Becoming a victim of an assaultive partner (most often a male abuser) and/or the victim of additional sexual assaults.


When an orphan or adolescent experience trauma such as family violence, child abuse, or witnesses prolonged violence, several problems arise. These children might experience anger, distrust, and fear commitment. Children who live through such childhood trauma often suffer permanently. Extensive studies about adults abused as children investigate the relationships between childhood trauma and problems including uncontrollable anger and a negative attitude. Miller, Villani and Sharfstein all discuss numerous factors that influence violence, including alcohol, violent threats, and a violent past (Miller, p. 61-62; and Sharfstein, p. 2). Miller (1998) presents several abuse and mistreatment studies concerning children who experience family violence at an early age and how this violence leads them to have behavioral problems as adults (p. 62). Child abuse, whether inflicted on orphans or children who live with biological parents, causes distrust, another problem and long lasting effect. Distrust can result with abused children. These children begin to distrust the people closest to them, their family, and this lack of trust carries over into adulthood.

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  • Straus, M.A., & Gelles, R.J. (1990). Physical violence in American families. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

  • Terr, L. (1991). Childhood trauma: An outline and overview. American Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 10-20.

  • McKay, M. (1994). The link between domestic violence and child abuse: Assessment and treatment considerations. Child Welfare League of America, 73, 29-39.

  • Romans, S. E., Martin, J. L., Anderson, J. C., Herbison, G. P., and Mullen, P. E. (1995), 'Sexual abuse in childhood and deliberate self harm', American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 152, pp. 1336 - 1342.

  • Romans, S. E., Martin, J. and Mullen, P. E. (1996), 'Women's self-esteem: a community study of women who report and do not report childhood sexual abuse', British Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 169, pp. 696 - 704.

  • Romans, S. E., Martin, J. and Mullen, P. E. (1997), 'Childhood sexual abuse and later psychological problems: neither necessary, sufficient nor acting along', Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, vol. 7, pp. 327 - 338.



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