Child Abuse

Child abuse is a serious societal problem that result in the physical and emotional harm of children. According to Section 3 of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), at a minimum, child abuse and neglect are defined as any behavior or failure to act by a care giver or parent that results in physical harm, emotional harm, exploitation, sexual abuse, or even death. It could also refer to failure to act leading to a child being exposed to a serious harm. Statistics show that about 700,000 children are abused each year in the U.S. In Mississippi alone, there were 27,967 cases of child abuse and neglect that were reported in 2014. In addition, the same year, 22 children died as a result of child abuse and neglect (Child Welfare, 2016). 

Types of child abuse and neglect

CAPTA identifies and defines various forms of child abuse and neglect including:

  1. Physical abuse – Non-accidental or intentional physical or body injury that is caused by hitting, kicking, burning, whipping, shaking, throwing or choking a child as perpetrated by a child’s parent or caregiver. Such forms of injuries are classified as child abuse even if the perpetrator did not mean to harm the child. According to CAPTA, disciplining a child by spanking does not fit the definition of physical abuse if the spanking does not cause injuries (Child Welfare, 2016).
  2. Neglect – This is the act of failure by a caregiver or parent to meet the basic needs of a child including food and shelter, emotional support, medical care and education. However, in some states, parents who fail to seek medical care for their children because of religious beliefs are exempted from the definition of neglect.
  3. Sexual abuse – This involves touching or fondling a child’s genitals, rape, sodomy, penetration, incest or exploitation through prostitution or pornography and is perpetrated by a child’s parent or caregiver. 
  4. Emotional abuse – This refers to actions or behaviors by parents or caregivers that lead to the impairment of a child’s emotional development. Behaviors that could lead to emotional abuse include threats, withholding love and support, rejection and constant criticism. Since this form of abuse is psychological, it is often difficult to prove that a child is emotionally abused.
  5. Substance abuse – Some states define child substance abuse as the prenatal risk of harm to a child as a result of a mother’s use of illegal substances, selling or giving alcohol to a child, producing meth in the presence of a child, and use of drugs by the caregiver impairing his or her ability to take care of the child.
  6. Abandonment – Some states consider abandonment to occur when the identity or location of parents or caregivers are not known to a child or when a child is left all alone to fend for himself or herself (Child Welfare, 2016). 

Child abuse and neglect in different states

Different states have more expansive and detailed definition of child abuse that provide direction on what constitutes child abuse and how it is reported. For instance, in Mississippi, child abuse refers to allowing or instigating child maltreatment in terms of sexual abuse, exploitation, mental damage, emotional abuse, non-accident physical injury, and other forms of maltreatment. In addition, Mississippi defines child neglect as an occasion or event whereby a child’s parents or caregivers fail or refuse to take care of the health and wellbeing of the child. This could be in form of denying food, education or even medical care. However, Mississippi does not consider physical discipline to be a form of child abuse. 

In Mississippi, a child abuse felony is an intentional or reckless act that is committed by a person who is responsible for the wellbeing of a child and results in harm to a child. Examples of such harm include burns, choking, poisoning, starving or physical torture. It is also against the law to knowingly cause serious physical harm to a child. For instance, it is a felony to break a child’s bones, cause brain or eye damage, cause permanent disfigurement, or cause scarring by hitting a child on the head or face, whipping, disfiguring or scarring. Felony child abuse in Mississippi is also when a caregiver or parent intentionally or recklessly cause bodily harm to a child by kicking, biting, hitting, cutting or striking the genitals of a child aged 14 years and below (Child Welfare, 2016).

Child abuse social problem

One social issue that arises from child abuse is the thin line between child discipline and child abuse. Some states exempt certain acts or omissions of the CAPTA from the statutory definition of child abuse. For instance, 17 states including Mississippi, California, Texas and others allow physical disciplining of a child through spanking and other physical means only if they are reasonable and do not result in any form of injury to a child. However, by allowing parents and caregivers to spank children as a form of physical discipline, intentional unintentional child abuse might occur (Child Welfare, 2016). 

Parental discipline is the style in which parents or caregivers teach children that a behavior is inappropriate. There are many ways of instilling good behavior in a child including praising, criticism or spanking; the intention is to guide a child towards the appropriate direction or behavior. While there is a clear line between discipline and abuse for most parents, some caregivers often end up physically or emotionally harming their children. In most cases, the line between abuse and discipline is always very clear. For instance, sexual contact or activity between a parent or caregiver and a child is never appropriate and can never be considered to be discipline. 

One way of telling the difference between child abuse and parental discipline is the level of anger or frustration of a parent or caregiver when he or she is disciplining a child. While it is normal for a parent to become frustrated by a child’s actions, parents can use discipline in form of spanking or criticism to express their anger and this could lead to the physical and emotional harm to a child. Parents need to understand that there are non-physical forms if disciplining a child without risking child abuse. However, some statutory laws on child abuse make it easy for parents to harm children while instilling discipline.

Standards of reporting

It is expected that any person who witnesses or suspects that a child has been subjected to abuse should make a report to child protective services. In many states, a report is required if a person has reason to believe that a child is being subjected to actions or behaviors that could cause them harm. These behaviors could also include spanking and constant criticism in some states. Different states also specify individuals that can be reported as child abuse perpetrators and they include parents, foster parents, guardians, relatives, and other people who have been left with the responsibility of caring for a child. In some states such as Washington and Connecticut, only mandated reporters should report when they have reason to believe that a child needs medical care but is not receiving it. The mandated reporters include social workers, doctors and nurses. The standards help in guiding reporters of child abuse and neglect on when and how to make a report. 

All the 50 states including Mississippi have their own child abuse and neglect policies and reporting laws that define the requirements for reporting and addressing child abuse. It is a requirement that all states report cases and incidences of child abuse to the federal government through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). The NCANDS defines child abuse as an action or failure to act by a care giver leading to physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or neglect. Child abuse is also defined as failure to act by a caregiver resulting in increased risk of harm to a child. However, child abuse in form of parental discipline is not included in this definition (Child Welfare, 2016).

In conclusion, the lack of a clear line between parental discipline and child abuse in a number of states including Mississippi require a change in policy whereby spanking and other physical and emotional disciplines that could expose a child to harm should be considered to be illegal. Individuals and other people who are mandated to report cases of child abuse should also be required to report cases of physical discipline in terms of spanking and whipping. Since the rules and consequences regarding parental discipline are not clear, parental physical and emotional discipline should be prohibited. 


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