Child abuse is one of the most ignored issues in Pakistan despite its seriousness. The number of reported cases has been increasing which is now getting the attention of people. Child abuse can result from physical, emotional or sexual harm and can result in both short term and long term injury. In many cases, the children are not even aware that they are victims of child abuse.

Different types of child abuse

Child abuse takes many forms such as physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and even emotional abuse which may be as harmful as physical abuse.

Physical abuse is deliberately hurting a child or injuring her/him. It may not always be done with the intention to hurt a child and might even be justified as being a form of discipline. However, it still constitutes as physical abuse if the disciplining is fear-based and done while acting out in anger.

Neglect is also a form of child abuse where a carer of the child fails to provide conditions which are essential for the healthy physical and emotional development of a child.

Emotional abuse, which is also called psychological abuse or maltreatment is the most common form of child abuse. It includes acts of omission, not showing love and affection, humiliation, setting unreasonable expectations, etc.

Child sexual abuse is when an adult, adolescent, or a child, abuses their age, authority or power to manipulate a child into a sexual act or expose them to inappropriate sexual content or behavior. Child sexual abuse can occur through threats and physical force, but in some cases the abuser may manipulate the child into believing that it is an act out of love or that the child ‘asked for it’. All children are vulnerable to sexual abuse; however girls and disabled children are even more likely to be abused. Abusers can be both male and female; with some being serial perpetrators while others might be more opportunistic or situational.

Bullying: It is very important that children are protected from various other dangers as well such as bullying at school or outside. It is possible that children are picked on or teased by other children who may be stronger. They may also be physically hurt by them. In some situations children do not feel confident enough to talk to their parents about it, or may even be embarrassed or threatened by the bullies. There are also cases where children are exposed to inappropriate situations simply because they are accompanying their older siblings or other adults where they may experience inappropriate things. These could range from adult movies to drugs or even abusive language and violence.

Identifying signs of child abuse

It is not always easy to identify the signs of child abuse as it is not always obvious. A child might not open up to anyone about what is going on. This could be because they are scared that the abuser might hurt them if they were to find out, they might not have anyone to tell or fear that no one would believe them. Additionally, the person who abused them may be someone they love and want to protect. Unfortunately, in many cases the children are not aware that what is happening to them is abuse.

If children show a sudden and unexplained change in behavior, mood, or school performance, cry a lot for no reason, have eating or sleeping problems and complain of constant aches and pains, it is important that the families or caretakers take notice. A child who is, or has been, abused often shows excessive interest in violent or sexual activities, may have unexplained injuries, wet his/her bed frequently and/or feel discomfort in relation to an adult or another older child. For older children, specifically teenagers, they start showing unexplained changes in mood, signs of depression, unexplained fears of certain places and people, violent behavior, sudden and unexplained drops in school performance, sudden and excessive changes in eating and sleeping patterns, self-harming behavior, lying or running away from home and sometimes unexplained, unnecessary or excessive gifts or money from older children or adults.

Victims of sexual abuse are affected in a number of ways and these effects can vary depending on the severity of the abuse, age of the child, relationship of the abused child to the abuser and most importantly, the support that a child receives from people around her or him. The emotional effect on children can manifest itself in the form of age-inappropriate behavior such as thumb sucking, scratching and picking at skin or nails, conduct disturbances, anxiety issues, nightmares and impaired social interaction and academic problems.

How to support children including psychological and emotional support

It should be our responsibility as parents, teachers, and caretakers to ensure that we try to prevent child abuse. One of the biggest reasons children are so vulnerable is because of their inability to speak about this to someone older. Since this topic is very sensitive, many parents and adults feel uncomfortable talking about such issues. However, if we educate our children about Child Sexual Abuse we would be able to prevent it or address the situation in a timely way if they were to ever encounter it.

It is very important that these children are given specific information that is age-appropriate about sexual abuse so that they can recognize such behavior. They should be taught techniques to handle such dangerous situations and encouraged to open up about it if something like this were to happen. What helps the most is educating children about the private parts of the body that need to be protected and why. They should also be wary of the differences in touch such as good touch, bad touch, and secret touch. Children should be taught how to say no to any sort of touching that makes them uncomfortable, and finally, they should be given unconditional love and support.

Our support makes a lot of difference in the life a child who has been sexually abused. By making the child feel like it was his or her fault, not believing them, showing anger towards them or being emotional only makes it worse. It would be helpful to use phrases that show them that you are there for them, that they are not to be blamed and that you believe them.

Maha Rauf is a qualified developmental and applied psychologist with a masters degree from Turkey. she has a diverse experience of research and counseling of children and adolescents. She also has experience of working with children with special needs and learning difficulties, and has benefited many by developing customized study plans and strategies to facilitate and promote learning. She is currently working as a Special Education Coordinator/Counselor at Beaconhouse Newlands Campus, Islamabad.
She is available to provide support and guidance, and can be reached at