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Doctors on call:Childhood abuse linked to adult diseases

Child maltreatment and abuse is a global problem that equates to serious life-long consequences.

Child maltreatment and abuse is a global problem that equates to serious life-long consequences.  The overall health and wellbeing of a child at an early age directly correlates to the health and wellbeing of future generations. A positive future tomorrow is caused by the actions of today.

Approximately 20% of women and 5 to 10% of men report being sexually abused as children, while 25 to 50% of all children report being physically abused according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

These trends cannot continue. To solve this global concern, we must start with the education and awareness of what child maltreatment and abuse is defined as. Maltreatment can impair the physical and mental health of an individual, a family, a community and a nation.

What is child maltreatment? Child maltreatment is the abuse and/or neglect of a child that includes, but is not limited to all types of physical mistreatment, emotional neglect and sexual abuse. Any act that places the child’s health and/or future in danger can be classified as abuse or neglect.

Studies show that children commonly adopt their parent’s parenting style since they don’t know any other system. Child abuse and neglect is not genetic, but a long-term, generational mindset that can be changed and improved.

The breadth of the problem is great, but it severely lacks sufficient statistics. Reporting is extremely low due to poor regulations, lack of accountability, poor parenting expectations and the acceptance of abuse as normal.

Abuse causes health conditions The health and wellbeing of an individual is determined by what we think, what we do and what we have been exposed to. Abuse and maltreatment causes deep-rooted mental and emotional strain that will stick with a child through to adulthood.

Violence, depression, anxiety, lack of self-worth, abusive dependence and a vast array of physical and mental health conditions can occur. Poor lifestyle choices such as obesity, smoking, high-risk sexual behaviours, alcohol and drug abuse are common outcomes of maltreated children.

Early childhood maltreatment has been linked with the disruption of early nervous system and immune system development that creates the cascade of health conditions. Excessive stress and maltreatment thus contributes to the leading causes of death such as heart disease and cancer.

Diseases place a significant strain on the healthcare delivery system through excessive spending, overwhelmed facilities and the shortage of qualified healthcare professionals. Simply, our choices impact the economic and health stability of the country.

Preventing abuse and maltreatment Prevention starts with education. Children cannot be blamed for abuse, but parental guilt is not the answer either. Healthy parenting stars with asking for help.

Seek out or help develop groups that increase knowledge of child development, parenting styles, positive child management strategies and other support systems.  Unity is powerful. Remember, a lot of neglect, abuse and maltreatment are caused by not knowing what to do.

Abuse and neglect is also very common in adults that have poor health, fatigue and substance abuse themselves. Prevention of childhood abuse starts with taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. Seek out appropriate care. To maximise the effects of prevention and care, follow a four-step approach:

  • Define the problem
  • Identify causes and risk factors
  • Create clear goals to minimise the risk factors
  • Form community support systems to facilitate education, awareness and the implementation of programmes that help eliminate childhood abuse.


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