Child abuse and neglect

Child abuse includes not only baby battering and physical abuse to older children but also mental and emotional cruelty and neglect. Parents are the most likely culprits, often when they are at the end of their emotional tether. At least half of all parents who batter their children have had an unhappy, cruel or violent upbringing themselves. Some cannot cope with the stress of poor housing, marital disharmony or unemployment, and take their discontent out on their child. Having a crying baby who does not sleep much, or a demanding, whining child, provokes some otherwise capable parents into behaving uncontrollably. Child abuse occurs in families of all levels of society. Often one child in a family is picked as a scapegoat. Child abuse can escalate as the parent gets used to doing it. Physical assault may start out as punishment that gets out of hand, causing bruising, black eyes and even burning (usually with a cigarette), fractures and abdominal injury. These signs, or others such as failure by the child to grow in height or weight, a generally miserable appearance, repeated crying or running away from home, are all suspicious pointers to alert neighbours, teachers, or the medical profession to help the family and thereby protect the child from further abuse.