Although the extent of child abuse is difficult to measure, it is recognized as a major social problem, especially in industrialized nations. It occurs in all income, racial, religious, and ethnic groups and in urban and rural communities. It is, however,more common in some groups, especially those below the poverty line.
Cultures around the world have different standards in deciding what constitutes child abuse. In Sweden, for example, the law prohibits any physical punishment of children, including spanking. By contrast, in some countries of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, parents are expected to punish their children by hitting them. The most common form of child abuse is neglect.
Physical neglect involves a parent’s failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care to a child. It may also include inadequate supervision and a consistent failure to protect a child from hazards or danger. Emotional neglect occurs when a parent or caretaker fails to meet a child’s basic needs for affection and comfort. Examples of emotional neglect include behaving in a cold, distant, and unaffectionate way toward a child, allowing a child to witness chronic or severe spousal abuse, allowing a child to use alcohol or drugs, and encouraging a child to engage in delinquent behavior.
Another form of neglect involves failing to meet a child’s basic education needs, either by failing to enroll a child in school or by permitting a child to skip school frequently. Stress brought on by a variety of social conditions raises the risk of child abuse within a family. These conditions include unemployment, illness, poor housing conditions, a larger-than-average family size, the presence of a new baby or a disabled person in the home, and the death of a family member. A large majority of reported cases of child abuse come from families living in poverty. Child abuse also occurs in middle-class and wealthy families, but it is better reported among the poor for several reasons.
Wealthier families have an easier time hiding abuse because they have less contact with social agencies than poor families. In addition, social workers, physicians, and others who report abuse subjectively label children from poor families as victims of abuse more often than children from rich families. Alcohol and drug use, common among abusive parents, may aggravate stress and stimulate violent behavior. Certain characteristics of children, such as mental retardation or physical or developmental disabilities, can also increase the stress of parenting and the risk of abuse. CRIME—The public appears much more aware of juvenile crime today than in the pastMost theories of juvenile delinquency have focused on children from disadvantaged families, ignoring the fact that children from affluent homes also commit crimes.
The latter may commit crimes because of the lack of adequate parental control, delays in achieving adult status, and hedonistic tendencies. All theories, however, are tentative and are subject to criticism. Changes in the American social structure may indirectly affect juvenile crime rates. For example, changes in the economy that lead to fewer job opportunities for youth and rising unemployment in general make gainful employment increasingly difficult for young people to obtain.
The resulting discontent may in turn lead more youths into criminal behavior.Bibliography: