The Right to Protection: Child Abuse is the Root of Much Evil
One of the fundamental human rights is to be protected from child maltreatment—physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, and neglect. After decades of study it is no longer necessary to spend much time trying to define child maltreatment precisely; I and others have spent enough of our precious time and energy engaged in that task. I will cover this issue briefly.
I have learned that the task of defining child maltreatment is not simply one of listing specific behaviors that fall within or outside the boundaries of the term. No simple list is of much use because there are complex issues of intention (if you hurt a child unintentionally but should have known that what you were doing was dangerous or damaging it is still child maltreatment) and consequence (if you have sex with a child, terrorize a child, or throw a child against a wall and the child is unhurt that does not make it any the less child maltreatment).
This approach lodges child maltreatment solidly within a human rights framework. It recognizes that protecting children is an ongoing effort to raise the standards for how children are treated as knowledge and awareness increase about what children are entitled to and how that entitlement influences positive and negative development. Thus, at any particular time and place, to label something child maltreatment is to recognize that the institutions of a community have come to understand that the minimal standards of child care are being violated in ways that put the child at risk. Of course, many people find this approach to defining child maltreatment frustrating. They would like a definitive list of what is and isn’t child abuse and neglect. But after 35 years in the field I am convinced that there is no such list. There is only a commitment to keep to the task of bringing social and cultural realities in line with our developing understanding of the basic human rights of children: bodily integrity, psychic safety, and nurturance.
KeywordsSexual Abuse Child Maltreatment Traumatic Experience Conduct Disorder Violent Delinquent
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