News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Friday December 15th 2017

Faltering economy leads to child abuse and neglect

Yugendree Naidoo

While the loss of over 150 000 jobs as revealed in statistics from the first quarter of 2010 and widely reported in the financial media, is sobering for the country as a whole, it is particularly bad news for children, say counsellors.

The stress of trying to put food on the table and keep a family afloat is often, like an executive clicking-ball desk weight, pushed down the line, with the most vulnerable being most affected.

Verbal and physical abuse directed at children is directly linked to increased stress in the household, said Western Cape LifeLine/Childline deputy director Ricki Fransman.

And parents preoccupied with finances might not even realise they were neglecting their children or subjecting them to emotional abuse.

Fransman said neglect and physical abuse are the most common forms of abuse against children reported to the toll free crisis line and, although she could not give any statistics, said such incidents appeared to be on the increase.

“We get calls from all areas, whether it be poverty-stricken, middle class or wealthy. Everybody has been affected by the economic downturn.”

She advised parents and caregivers experiencing financial stress to seek debt counseling or help with parenting rather than risk taking out their frustration, even unwittingly, on their children.

Cape Town Child Welfare noted a steady increase in cases of child neglect over the last three years due to financial circumstances said senior direct service manager Ina Vermeulen.

“We have established that financial problems play a role in child neglect as, for instance, children are not able to attend school because they (parents) can’t afford a uniform, shoes or stationery,” said Vermeulen.

Mitchell’s Plain Crisis Line counselor Geraldine Young said arguments over money were often a cause of domestic violence which filtered down to the children.

Young said parents often took out their frustration on their children by either swearing or slapping them for petty issues and parents behaviour toward their children often changed for the worse.

This led to their being less parental guidance, which encouraged the child to seek solace outside the home, resulting in experimentation with substance abuse and promiscuity.

“It is concerning because many children begin to have behavioral problems or go into a depression as a result of their parent’s bickering over finances,” said Young.

A recent report in Time Online highlighted US research showing a link between the recent economic recession and an increase in shaken baby syndrome.

The shaken baby syndrome is known to be directly linked to parental frustration resulting in a baby being shaken to stop it crying, often resulting in massive trauma to the baby’s brain, and in severe cases, resulting in death.

“Researchers analyzed data on 512 cases of head trauma in the children’s centres of four hospitals in America and found that the number of cases had increased to 9.3 per month as of Dec. 1, 2007, compared with 6 per month prior to that date – a rate that had held steady since 2004,” read the report.

Researchers also reported an increase in child abuse around the country in more and more hospitals as prosecutors are called in by emergency-room physicians to investigate suspected cases of abuse, it said.

Professor Sebastian van As head of the trauma unit at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town said there was “no doubt” that loss of income to parents was “a risk factor for children as it’s a big stressor”.

This was even more so for single or young parents, said van As.

He said children usually sustained fractures to the skull, arm or legs due to physical abuse, accounting for five percent of violent injuries out of 10 000 children it treated annually. This translated to roughly 500 cases of child abuse, including sexual abuse, the hospital treated each year.

Also of concern was that 50 percent of all accidental injuries children received were due to getting caught in the crossfire of domestic violence.

“It’s very common for children, especially boys, to get hurt protecting their mothers as they try to intervene.” – West Cape News

Tags: childline, lifeline, redcross

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