How Society Changed The Way It Saw Child Abuse: Statistics And History For National Prevention Month

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and non-profit organization Childhelp specifically holds their advocacy day on April 5: National Day of Hope. Let’s take a look the history of children’s rights, as well as some statistics and tips that are still being used to combat the problem today.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a struggle that has marked the history of humanity. [Image by Veronica Louro/Shutterstock]

History of Child Abuse

Humanity’s conception of child abuse has evolved wildly over time. Up until the Middle Ages, infanticide was common — boys and girls were not even guaranteed the right to live by their parents, according to Child Abuse and Neglect by Monica M. McCoy and Stefanie M. Keen. Still, their lives were not much improved once they achieved it. The predominant philosophy of child-rearing in the 16th century was that children were inherently evil creatures that must be coerced with physical discipline, even beating them with birch rods or striking them across the face and neck.

With the Enlightenment, philosophers like John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau began to argue against the prevailing ideas of the time, instead saying that children were neither inherently good or bad. Rather, they should be encouraged to become better, by their parents, or left to their own moral compass.

Yet child abuse was hardly eradicated by these changes in thought. Rather, a particularly brutal period of child exploitation followed: the Industrial Revolution. Children entered the workforce being maltreated not just by their parents at home, but now also by their bosses. In fact, at one point, it is estimated that around one million children made up more than 15 percent of the total amount of people employed in England. At least 350,000 of these workers were seven to 10 years old, according to a study by Oxford professor Jane Humphries.

One of the horrific tasks relegated to children was sifting through coal, which gave the tiny employees chronic pulmonary issues.

It is important to bring back coal mining because what will young boys do for a living after the child labor laws are overturned? pic.twitter.com/BPsDy7jMQV

— Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) March 29, 2017

Near the end of the 19th century, the invention of the camera gave those trying to fight back against child abuse a new weapon. Documenting the suffering taking place in factories all over the Western world helped to provoke a societal shift in the way that people saw the rights of children. Photographer Lewis W. Hine documented the conditions under which children were working in a variety of industries, often having to go undercover to capture his images and constantly facing violent threats from those who were exploiting the children.

— LiterateIndy (@LiterateIndy) March 20, 2017

Photographs of Child Labour in USA by Lewis Hine (17 photos) https://t.co/r8LEiTKr5O pic.twitter.com/OQWFbi8HUW

— phases pictures (@picturephase) March 29, 2017

Child abuse at home, however, was almost entirely legal up until the end of the 19th century. It was only then that courts and legislatures began slowly moving toward limits on the way that a parent could treat their child. In 1869, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a parent must treat their child humanely, up against a spirited defense that argued caretakers were under no such obligation.

By the 1960s, the modern day idea of what constitutes child abuse was more or less established by the academic community, and more widespread efforts were led to combat it throughout the following decades. Still, some forms of child exploitation are still carried out legally today. Tobacco farms, for instance, still employ young workers despite reports that the work may cause health issues.

In modern times, child abuse is still a hot-button issue. Some argue the government has become too intrusive in family lives, though most agree that children are better protected than ever against maltreatment. Despite some disagreement on the definition, it is now typically seen as a bipartisan issue — with National Child Abuse Prevention Month receiving nods from both presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Child abuse around the world

Child abuse can, of course, extend to several types of the treatment of children, some of which are more accepted in some cultures than others. Female genital mutilation, for example, is still prevalent in many places in the Middle East and Africa. Whereas other countries, such as Denmark and Sweden, have rallied against male circumcision as a form of child abuse.

In many countries, conditions are not far off from the the days of the Reformation — and in some places even hail back to the ancient days of infanticide. Although it is illegal everywhere in the world, countries particularly affected by overpopulation, such as Pakistan and India, see high rates of infanticide despite laws barring the practice.

While child labor is in decline, other sinister forms of child abuse have also emerged around the globe, including the recruitment of child soldiers with the intention of playing off the sympathies of the enemy. Child sex trafficking is also present at epidemic rates across first and third world countries.

How To Fight Child Abuse Today

If you or someone you know suspects a minor is a victim of child abuse or neglect, you can call this hotline to report them to local authorities: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

  • Unexplained, patterned bruises or marks, especially on typical unexposed places on the body
  • Implausible explanation for these injuries
  • Lack of medical attention for an injury
  • Act out intense violent or sexual acts
  • Difficulty sitting and urinating
  • Unexplained bleeding from the genitals

National Child Abuse Prevention Month was established in to aid the three million children who are estimated to suffer child abuse in the United States every year. On a daily basis, four to seven children typically die as a result of maltreatment. Of those who do survive, around 80 percent develop a psychological disorder, reported Childhelp.

[Featured Image by Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock]