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Child abuse and mental health; the road towards a healthier childhood

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Saadeqa Khan
Saadeqa Khan
Saadeqa Khan is the founder, CEO, & Editor-in-Chief of Scientia Pakistan. She's a member of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network (Second Cohort) and NASW. Saadeqa is a fellow of NPF Washington, The Falling Walls Foundation, and the Science Journalism Forum. Saadeqa has won several international journalism grants and awards for her reports.

Another year started, all through the long nights of respite I stared in the pale light of the fading day and dark skies, wandering of the fact that of winters and its barren evenings has nothing to do with the crimes that scare my homeland. The jagged blade of sexual violence against women and children is puncturing the thin evil of prosperity that covers us, draping us in the cunning silence.

According to the statistics summed up by an NGO, SAHIL has been working since 1996 on child protection against abuse, the rate of child sexual abduction carries on with 7 children per day. The report consisting of some cruel facts indicates that during the last six months, a total of 1304 children have been reported in the categories of rape and abduction for sexual purposes. Out of these 1304 children abused, 529 were boys, and 729 were girls, mainly reported in rural and urban parts of Punjab. The statistics show the lowest rate in Baluchistan and KPK provinces; the fact is that the majority of people in these areas are fearful of reporting their child abuse, either by close relatives or in the neighborhoods because of the so-called societal norms. Most of the cases reported in police stations or highlighted by media or social media were those in which children were abducted and assassinated by the culprits. Either way, sexual abuse is a crime, and it can have a more significant impact on the child’s physical and mental well-being.

Since our experiences in childhood play a vital role in shaping our health, ways of thinking, and behaviors throughout life. When a child is abducted, it may leave scars; in some cases, mostly girls, they spent their entire life being wounded and vulnerable. Child abuse may have a wide range of effects in adulthood, including post-traumatic disorder. The moment when a child went through abduction, he/she got shocked with intense and distressing feelings, and if they would not deal properly, it may lead to post-traumatic disorder (PTD). Some of the complicated factors that contribute to PTD are the severity of the trauma, how close was the person who abused child, and how long abuse lasted? If the child shares abuse with parents, mostly they dismiss him/her at all, and this forced silence may have far longer and a wide range of effects in his/her adulthood and relationships.

If the abuser was in close contact or association with a child, the abduction may impair his belief that the world could be a safer place, and he may have a hard time trusting others in the future. When the child would not get the necessary support of parents or loved ones, he/she started blaming himself that further lowers his self-esteem.

Child abuse is a crime and it can have a more significant impact on the child's physical and mental well-being.
Child abuse is a crime and it can have a more significant impact on the child’s physical and mental well-being

In her book, “The rescued soul: the writing journey for the healing of incest and family betrayal, Christina Enevolson wrote that “the fear of abandonment forced me to comply as a child, but I am not forced to comply anymore. The key people in my life did reject me for telling the truth about my abuse, but I am not alone even with the consequences for telling the truth is rejection from everyone I know, it is not the same death threat that it was when I was a child.”

A majority of adults who have had experienced abuse in their childhood, have difficulty in controlling their anger or frustration, and they used to dissociate themselves from painful events as a coping mechanism to protect themselves, over time it may lead to further risky behaviors like self-harm without an intention of suicide.

Though experiencing child abuse does not necessarily mean that the victim will develop a mental illness, it is subjected to the cases where a child would not open up for a serial abuse or his loved ones, especially parents, dismiss him at all. At times, it is noted that people gone through sexual abduction in childhood have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, dissociative, bipolar, or borderline personality disorder, mostly addicted to drugs and alcohol.

In Pakistan, even though 7 children are being abducted or raped each day, by their close relatives, in the neighborhood or by the teachers in the Schools and Madarasa, speaking out against sexual violence is still a taboo. Parents are neglected for their child’s physical and mental well-being and, in most cases, cut off supporting children. This isolation makes it even harder for the victim to heal and feel batter in adulthood and even after marriage.

Parents should be aware of the problems of their children and assure them to fix it. They should keep in mind that child abuse has been associated with many adverse physical, psychological, and behavioral problems. We can never allow shame, guilt, or fear to over-rule their entire life and happiness. A journey towards healing kick-starts within us, it is never too late to speak out!

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