Rising violence on children- a cause for concern - Psychiatrist | Sunday Observer

Rising violence on children- a cause for concern - Psychiatrist

16 January, 2022

The year 2022 has begun with an escalation of violence and cruelty inflicted on children with the main culprits being teenagers and alcoholic parents.   On January 3 a leading English newspaper carried a news item of a shocking incident in Hatton Kudagama village where a father had stripped his 7- and 6-year-old daughter and son and tied them to trees, and later thrown chilli powder at them over a minor offence.  Following that there was a news item of a student who raped a young girl who he was giving tuition to in her very home under her parents’ nose.! And just a day later on January 8  a 19-year-old youth  from Piliyandala was arrested for sexually molesting his 12 -year-old sister  who had reportedly abused her since she was in grade 3.

On January 6 the Daily News also carried a news item where six boys were arrested over the death of a 17- year-old in Grandpass., stabbed by a teenaged gang .  

Abuse of children which this year has begun mounting to frightening levels  has raised fresh concerns among psychologists, psychiatrists and health officials in general struggling to  find out the root causes for this new culture of violence in our peaceful nonviolent society. 

The Sunday Observer spoke to Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Head, Department of Psychiatry, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Dr Yasodha Rohanachandra who has been in the forefront of campaigning against child abuse in any form, for her comments on this latest string of violence against children.

What were her views on the first incident where two minor children had been subjected to cruel torture by their own father in a drunken fit? 

In reply she said, “ I have frequently encountered such incidents in my clinical practice. In 2020 alone, 2237 cases of cruelty to children have been received by the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA). Often the perpetrator has a substance use problem, is from low socio-economic status, has low educational attainment or mental health problems. The caregivers may have been subjected to similar cruelty themselves when they were children, making them think that cruelty towards children is acceptable. As children are completely dependent on their caregivers and  unable to protect themselves, it is everyone’s duty to report such acts of cruelty. However, fear of the perpetrator and reluctance to get involved in legal procedures may make spectators reluctant  to intervene even if they want to..

 To our question as to what were the mental impacts on the victims who underwent this public humiliation, her response was, “This sort of humiliation can be considered as a form of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviour in which the perpetrator insults, humiliates, and generally instills fear in an individual in order to control them. This kind of  emotional abuse can lead to low self- esteem and difficulties in expressing and regulating emotions. Over time, children will stop believing good things about themselves and may start to live up to the negative words being spoken to them. It can also lead to anxiety, depression, self-harm, inattention, sleep problems, eating disorders, substance use, posttraumatic stress disorder and personality disorders. Furthermore, such abuse by parents gives children a distorted view of the parent-child relationship, which may predispose them to be emotionally abusive to their own children in the future.

Asked if the mental scars will remain for long in these children she said, “Experiencing traumatic events during early development can actually affect brain development, making the negative effects lifelong. Studies have shown that abused children have smaller brain volumes and changes in brain structure. Maltreatment in early childhood has also been shown to result in adverse adult-onset physical health; in particular, chronic disease and reproductive and adult sexual health problems. The effects of child abuse can even affect the generations to come. Recent studies focusing on intergenerational transmission of adverse childhood experiences have shown that maternal exposure to child maltreatment to be associated with poor mother infant bonding, disturbed attachment relationships, child maladjustment, internalising problems, externalising problems and poor child academic performance in the offspring.

Describing some of the symptoms  to look out for, she listed the following:, Difficulties in emotional regulation, poor attention and concentration, educational underachievement, difficulty in building and maintaining interpersonal relationships, poor social skills, social withdrawal, low self-worth and pessimistic view of the world can be some of the features of children who have undergone such trauma.

When asked if she thought that the present laws against cruelty to children were too lax and needed to be amended, she said, “It is not the lack of legal framework that is the issue. It is the poor

So could she suggest a suitable solution to end this vicious cycle so that children  could grow up in a safe environment ?

In reply she said, ”We should start at the root causes of the problem. Increasing public awareness on the harmful effects of living in an abusive environment on children is one strategy, as it would make more victims come forward to obtain help. Awareness programs should also include law enforcement officers to make them aware about the long-term psychological effects of living in an abusive family environment, so that they would take these matters more seriously. Addressing poverty and limiting access to alcohol and illicit substances is also important.

On the second incident where the two parties who could have sorted their differences in an amicable manner chose to resort to violence and murder, her comments were, that “ These youth show impulsivity, poor anger control and poor problem-solving skills. They may have come from a community where they have observed adults frequently use aggression as a way of solving interpersonal conflicts. Observing such behaviour may have taught them that aggression and violence is an acceptable way of solving conflicts. Alternatively, they may have antisocial personality traits where they lack empathy and have disregard to social norms.

Her message to all sri Lankan youth?

Academic demands and interpersonal relationships can make adolescence and youth a challenging period. However, help is available. All government hospitals have a Yowun Piyasa where youth can obtain counselling services and advice. In addition, they can contact the help line of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on 1926 if any help is needed.