Child abuse and neglect, preventable – National Child Protection Authority
The recent reports of the National Child Protection Authority indicate that it has received 3,785 complaints for the past year and the majority of them had been violence inflicted upon children. Considering the stigma and attitudes of Sri Lankan public, most cases of child abuse goes unreported.
Hence, the statistical overview presented above could be just the “tip of the iceberg”. The international experience suggests that reported cases are likely to represent only 10 percent of total cases perpetrated
President Maithripala Sirisena has understood the gravity of the problem. Two years ago, he established a special Task Force for the protection of children. And, recently he emphasised the need to introduce a national policy without any further delay towards the protection and well-being of the children.
mPolicy and legal measures
It is globally accepted that the best way to protect children is to prevent child abuse and neglect from happening in the first place. Child abuse and neglect is the result of the interaction of a number of individual, family, and environmental factors. Consequently, there is strong reason to believe that the prevention of child abuse and neglect requires a comprehensive focus that crosscuts key sectors of society (e.g., public health, government, education, social services, and justice).
What we require urgently, as President pointed out, is a steadfast National Policy for the protection of children with clear-cut strategies. This writer wishes suggest four ideas for consideration.
- Strengthen financial supports to needy families
- Change social norms to support parents and positive parenting
- Provide quality care and education early in life
- Enhance parenting skills to promote healthy child development
Let us briefly analyse these four strategies.
(1) Strengthening household financial security can reduce child abuse and neglect by improving parents’ ability to satisfy children’s basic needs. The financial security, for example, can be in the form of temporary assistance for needy families. Such relief will reduce parental stress and depression in bringing up their children.
Family-friendly work policies, such as flexible and consistent work schedules will improve balance between work and family and make it easier for parents to provide necessary care for children.
(2) Changing social norms that allow indifference to violence is also important to the prevention of child abuse. From a sociological perspective, social norms are informal understandings that govern the behaviour of members of a society. In addition, changing the way we think and talk about the child abuse and how to prevent it (our thinking) are important in working out the policy choice.
Social norms can be changed in two different ways. First, public engagement and education campaigns using communication strategies (for e.g., social marketing, mass or social media) and community-based efforts (for e.g., public meetings, neighbourhood screenings and discussions) to reframe the way people think and talk about child abuse and neglect.
Secondly, legislative approaches can be introduced to establish norms around safe, more effective discipline strategies. To make it a success legislative approaches must be paired with engagement and education campaigns.
(3) Early pre-school education, coupled with quality child care, can improve children’s socio-emotional development. It will lead to the likelihood that children will experience safe and stable relationships both in education and home settings.
Preschool enrichment with family engagement programs provide high-quality early education and care particularly to economically disadvantaged children to build a strong foundation for future learning.
(4) Parenting skills can be honed through several approaches.
Firstly, early childhood home visitation programs can be introduced. Such programs can provide information, caregiver support, and training about child health and development. These home visiting programs may be delivered by public nurses, professionals, or para-professionals.
These programs can teach parents about positive parenting skills to build strong and safe families that protect children from violence. Primary care providers are trained to identify and address factors (e.g., parental depression, substance abuse, major stress, utilization of harsh punishment, intimate partner violence) that increase risk for child abuse and neglect.
To achieve success in the above strategies, there should be appropriate programs implemented based on four main aspects – advocacy, prevention, support and research and development. Let us briefly go through them.
We must adopt and promote awareness of the importance of responsibility to protect children to all levels of society. These may include smart partnerships by the media and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector and community organisations.
We must ensure that those who deal directly with children are able to identify and report cases of neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation.
We must ensure children and the community and legal practitioners, students majoring in law, educators, social workers, medical professionals, members of enforcement (such as police officers and immigration), bus and cab drivers and security officers are given understanding of children’s rights under the Convention on the rights of the Child (CRC).
We must encourage the provision of a safe and healthy environment for children. We must encourage every organisation (whether public or private) to create policies and regulations on the protection of children.
- We must establish an early warning mechanism which will strengthen child protection mechanisms at national level.
- We must provide basic knowledge to the children for enable them to protect themselves from neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation as well as identify the risk to their situation.
- We must create a screening system, recognition and training for those who work directly with children.
Broadening and improve counselling services to victims, families, adult offenders, offenders of children and communities. We must increase and expanding health services and protection to victims and families.
mResearch and development
We must encourage research and development of child protection and spreading its research findings for improvements action. This factor is very important.
This writer believes our relevant authorities have missed some of the essential practices that may unintentionally hinder the child protection service delivery.
The effective delivery of public services in child protection services is crucial for poverty reduction, well-being of all children and to achieve development goals. In order to improve service delivery mechanisms, it does not suffice to concentrate merely on “supply side” mechanisms. It involves the need to capacitate the “demand side” of service delivery by ensuring that the users/stakeholders of child protection services are informed of their rights, duties and entitlements and are enabled to exercise their rights.