Advances and New Directions

By Silvano Arieti; H. Keith H. Brodie | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 8

CHILD ABUSE
AND NEGLECT

Marvin L. Blumberg

DURING this century, tremendous progress has been made in the development of scientific and medical methods for improving the health, nutrition, and general development of children. Yet, on the other hand, the incidence of child abuse and neglect has increased greatly. Perhaps this has been in part a result of the violent and frenetic state of the world, or of universal economic uncertainties, or of the beaurocratic depersonalization of the individual. In any event, the abuse of its offspring is almost exclusively a human phenomenon. Man with his superior intelligence has evolved a complex societal environment and he reacts to its pressures with human emotions, which often lead to character disorders.

From time immemorial children have been considered to be expendable and replaceable, with their parents having unquestioned authority over them. Children were frequently sacrificed to pagan gods, such as the Canaanite deity Baal. The biblical patriarch Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, at the Lord's request. Through the ages, it was believed that the rights of parents and the will of a deity condoned child abuse and murder. In the agricultural society of the last century, there was more concern for necessary domestic animals than for children. However, in 1875 a societal superego emerged and the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed in New York City. It was almost one century later before the states began passing laws defining child abuse and neglect and mandating the reporting of cases. More recently, faith in the myth of the maternal instinct and the widespread concept that everyone loves and protects innocent children has tended to obscure the extent of child abuse.

The legal definition of child abuse refers to inflicted wounds or sexual molestation of a child under sixteen years of age. Child neglect involves the deprivation of food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for a person under eighteen years of age. The objective medical view of abuse or neglect relates to the nature and severity of the wounds or the

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