The self-shot video of a mother slapping and threatening her four-year-old daughter while teaching her numbers shook up most of us who received it over Whatsapp groups (especially those of school moms); it later went viral when cricketer Virat Kohli shared it on Twitter.
The parents in question defended themselves saying the child was ‘stubborn’. Another viral video shows a father brutally kicking, punching and nearly strangulating his small son for not ‘studying properly’. (The images are disturbing. Please view them at your own discretion.)
Both videos show the horrifying reality of parenting in India, where slaps, punches and raps with sticks or rulers are often used to instill discipline in homes and schools. Verbal abuse is par for the course when parents are under various psychological pressures themselves.
Dr Ruby Charak’s work on childhood abuse and neglect among school-going adolescents from India suggested high rates of abuse and neglect when compared with studies from developed nations, namely, Germany, Canada, and the US.
“With 50-70 per cent of adolescents either reporting abuse and/or neglect, the situation is more like an epidemic,” says the assistant professor at Department of Psychological Science, University of Texas.
What makes it even more dangerous is that young children are especially vulnerable to childhood maltreatment where there is a breach of trust.
“The capacity for emotion and self-regulation develops early in life when dyadic interactions between the caregiver and child help build the child’s repertoire of emotion regulation skills. Disruptions in these early relationships (such as through sexual abuse or physical abuse or neglect), in the absence of other protective factors, can increase risk for disruptions in regulatory abilities that continue to manifest in adulthood,” says Dr Ruby.
Thankfully, not every child who is victimized faces physical or psychological problems as most show resilience in the face of adversity, she adds. But if the abuse is chronic, severe and goes undisclosed (likely in case of incest or familial abuse), it can affect the physiological and psychological makeup of a growing child, which lingers on well into adulthood.
This can lead to aggressive behaviour towards siblings and peers, partner violence, depression, anxiety, and personality problems.
Essentially, we are creating a vicious cycle of violence in society.
The best thing to do if you notice parental abuse is to report it. But in India, it is not clear whom to report familial abuse to. Calls by eShe to the police child helpline regarding the videos mentioned got no response, and till date, no action has been reported regarding any of them.
“I think more programmes need to be carried out focusing on generating awareness regarding what child maltreatment is, and how it can jeopardize the wellbeing of a child,” says Dr Ruby, adding that more than laws, community engagement programs have been found to be more effective in the prevention of child abuse and neglect.
Trained volunteers from the local community should educate schools and residents about child maltreatment, and give bystander-intervention training on how to identify and report it.
The malaise is within, therefore change must also begin here.