• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Monday 18th July, 2011

Abuse across boundaries

Two years ago, UNICEF’s Progress for children report, looked at data from 37 countries, and found that “86 per cent of children two to 14 years old experience physical punishment and/or psychological aggression." Considering the huge variability in how discipline is defined from country to country, is it possible to design the right policies, programs and interventions that address child protection in the local context?Because definition is not universal across countries it is hard to identify children’s experience of violence in the form of discipline. Knowing the nature of child disciplinary practices, their extent and their consequences are important when designing programs to protect children. Evidence that helps to understand the nature of how children are disciplined is needed in order to tackle child maltreatment in different countries. Unless child abuse and the factors that are associated with its different forms in local contexts are known, policies that aim to prevent violence against children and support those children who are exposed to it will not be successful.The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), supported by United Nation’s Children’s Fund, aims to monitor progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. In order to collect nationally representative data on women’s reproductive health and the health of children, a third round of MICS was conducted in 2005 and 2006 in 53 countries. MICS’ child discipline module – a modified version of the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale - was developed to assess the situation of children in different countries. The module was completed in 29 countries. Standardized questionnaires were used in all countries and women between 15 and 49 years of age were recruited. All caregivers were asked about their discipline methods towards one randomly selected child two to 14 years of age in the household, and parental attitudes towards corporal punishment were assessed. After data was collected, questions were classified to refer to specific types of abuse like psychological abuse and moderate and severe abuse so that these could be analyzed.Manas Akmatov, from the epidemiology group, Department of Infection Genetics, in Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, analyzed the data on 124, 916 children. His study aimed to compare different forms of child abuse across countries and regions and find out factors associated with different forms of child abuse. Three country groups were created to compare: African, transitional (includes the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavian countries), and all remaining countries.First, parental attitudes towards corporal punishment were analyzed as this has been found to be strongly associated with all forms of child abuse. The number of parents who believed that physical punishment should be used as a method of child-rearing in the African countries was greater than in transitional countries. There was huge variability in this regard between countries. For instance 92 per cent of Syrian parents believed that physical punishment is necessary whereas it was less than 10 per cent in all countries of former Yugoslavia and Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.Analyses on the last month’s prevalence of different forms of child abuse showed that child abuse is still common in many countries. In almost all of the countries psychological abuse was the highest compared to moderate and severe physical abuse. The median percentage was 83 per cent in African countries, but, on the other hand, it was 58 per cent in transitional countries. The highest prevalence rates of psychological abuse were observed in Yemen (92 per cent) and Vietnam (90 per cent); and the lowest rates were Albania (12 per cent) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (27 per cent). For both moderate and severe physical abuse the median percentage in African countries was the highest, (64 per cent and 43 per cent respectively); whereas in transitional countries it was lower (46 per cent and nine per cent respectively). But the variability for physical abuse across countries was also huge. For instance for severe physical abuse highest prevalence rates were observed in Yemen (61 per cent) and Cameroon (60 per cent), while the lowest were in Kyrgyzstan (five per cent) and Kazakhstan (two per cent). Looking at the factors associated with psychological and moderate and severe physical abuse, approximately the same patterns were observed for all forms of child abuse. For all forms of child abuse the highest risk was observed for the families who believed that physical punishment is necessary and the risk increased if they were of poorer economic status. The risk was higher among male children and those living with many household members and poorer families. Living in urban areas offered a higher risk for psychological and moderate physical abuse.Overall the highest prevalence of child abuse was observed in African countries. And parental attitude towards corporal punishment was the strongest factor that is associated with all forms of child abuse. The results highlight the importance of designing intervention programs that increase the awareness of child abuse among the general population, especially in African countries.The findings stress, too, that policy makers and those developing programs should consider the importance of specific local situations in each country and their correlates to child abuse.SourceAkmatov, M. K., (2011). Child abuse in 28 developing and transitional countries - results from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys. International Journal of Epidemiology, 40 (1), 219-227.Reference UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Progress for Children. A Report Card on Child Protection, September 2009, No. 8, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/acc51362.html [accessed 17 May 2011]

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