Child abuse: don’t look the other way

By: José Antonio Michelena

Yesterday a friend sent me a video where a child was physically abused. I erased it without seeing it. And on the same day, on the return of the market, walking on the sidewalk of a populous capital road, I witnessed a very painful event: a child of about five years asked an older adult for help because, according to him, “Mom and […] they’re sashing the most.”
If the video file could be deleted from my phone, that child’s expression of anguish and sadness I couldn’t remove it from my memory, because nothing affects me more than child abuse. And since both events happened in temporary proximity, chance referred me to causality: everything happens for something, and it has to be attended to, it had to be attended to.
When, eight years ago, I wrote a report on child abuse for IPS Cuba (Inter Press Service),1 I was able to approach the commendable academic and human work of a group of Cuban professionals, nucleated in the Academic Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse (CAPMI), who have long dealt with this social scourge.
It was precisely in 2019 that it was forty years since the publication of an extensive article, in Juventud Rebelde, by Dr. Nestor Acosta Tieles, a kind of introduction to the subject, publicly, of the founder of these studies in Cuba.2
Specialists in medicine, psychology, psychiatry, have investigated child abuse, identified causes and consequences; they have exposed it in the scientific community, they have published results from these studies… But, the problem is still there, in the family, in society. And we need to talk about it more emphatically. Draw. Make it visible. Report. Corner him.
Child abuse is in the same plot of gender-based violence, inextricably connected. Who, as a child, has grown up in a climate of abuse and mistreatment, in the midst of physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, emotional violence, hardly escapes to reproduce these patterns in his adult life.
By secular inculturation, inadequate education, child abuse lives underground, especially in the family setting. It is not always expressed in cries that bury everyone, in violence that leaps from home to the street. Even when it happens like this, hardly anyone intervenes. The saying of “between husband and wife no one should get in”, also reaches children, falsely regarded as “property” of parents.
How many times have we not seen, on public transport, a child crying, because he is hungry, thirsty, hot, and the response of the father or mother is to silence him with threat of violence. And how many times have we looked the other way, because we know that this rebound violence can fall on us?
The lack of education and information on child abuse makes it difficult to identify them in the multiplicity of scenarios where it manifests itself and in its diversity of representations.
For some time now, the bad habit, in not a few families, of turning children’s birthdays into adult celebrations has spread. It is very likely that initially, in the afternoon, there will be piñatas, clowns, games, but in the hours of the night, they are transformed into parties for adults, with regueton and alcoholic beverages. Thus, the child is excluded from a space created for him, or worse, involved in an environment that will harm him.
Unfortunately, schools also engage in these festive bad practices, at least as far as musical elements are concerned: the regueton invades educational venues with its burden of machismo, gesturality and verbal violence.
To expose the child to scenarios of violence is to mistreat him psychically and emotionally. Making him a witness of mistreatment of his mother or pet is a very severe damage to the infant, as is witnessing the image of the father or mother or both, in a state of intoxicatedness. This act makes the child suffer and at the same time creates identification with a behavior that he can then repeat with his own children.
Negligence is also abuse: exposing the child to boiling water boilers, knives, firearms, windows open at heights, elevators, stairs, hollows and other potential hazards. Child abuse research has shown that the vast majority of children’s accidents are a consequence of negligent adult behavior.
Period changes show new faces of child abuse. If in times already distant, some teachers came to punish students barbarically, other abuses occur in the school today, not precisely of physical abuse, but of psychic and emotional abuse. You only have to ask parents of children and teenagers to meet them. They’re silenced stories, but in the public domain.
The empowerments – economic, social – in the new times have also brought other faces of child abuse: “very busy” parents who replace childcare with money. Buy this, buy that, give this to the teacher, this one to the principal. An abominable attitude that generates disinterest, incommunicadoness, corruption.
Child abuse requires constant activism by communicators. Point out wrong practices, misconduct and customs; to publicize the extensive plot in which physical, psychic, sexual, emotional abuses are recorded. And educate, educate, educate… But, if necessary, penalize, which does not belong to the communicators.
Just as gender-based violence is set on fire, perpetual check, so should child abuse be. It’s a serious social problem. Knowing him, identifying him, fighting him, concerns everyone. Ω

1 See José Antonio Michelena: “The Long Road from Child Abuse. A look from Cuba, ” in
2 See Nestor Acosta Tieles: Child Abuse. Prevention, Havana, Scientific-Technical Editorial, 2007.

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