History of Child Abuse
Child abuse has existed and flourished throughout history, in all cultures and ethnic backgrounds, in all its forms. Historically, two rights are at the core of violence against children:
» the right to own property, and
» the right to own children.
In ancient Rome, fathers had the authority to sell, kill, maim, sacrifice or otherwise do with a child as he saw fit. Typically, the father exercised this power if the child was born deformed, weak, disabled, or in any way different than was considered the norm. In these cases, it was not unusual for a Roman father to declare the child unfit to live.
Sexual abuse within the family has always existed, in spite of a universal taboo (Mead, 19631). From Biblical literature, to the Inca, to the Egyptians, virtually all types of incest are described. Even today, child sexual abuse continues, despite societal taboos.
Historically, parents have used their children for profit. In England and the Americas, during industrialization, children were placed in apprenticeships, workhouses, orphanages, placement mills, factories, farms, and mines. In England, 5-year-olds worked 16-hour days in factories while shackled in chains. They were often whipped to get them to work harder.
History shows that Canada must also accept accountability for our part . . .
From 1870 to 1930, over 8000 children were taken from the streets of Dublin and London, then shipped to Canada to work on farms and in factories (Bagnell, 1985, p. 92). The children were at the mercy of the adults who claimed them. Many of these Canadian adults felt their job was "to shape their crude material into finished form and to do so through the application of work and discipline" (Bagnell, 1985, p. 843).
In 1886, John Kelso, a Globe reporter, wrote about the child abuse horrors that many of these children were experiencing. In 1887, the Toronto Humane Society was formed with the mandate to prevent cruelty to animals and children (Bagnell, 1985, p. 854). The Children's Aid Society was formed in 1891 with Kelso as founding president. He was instrumental in getting the government in 1893 to pass the first bill in Canada to protect children.
And the United States must also be accountable for failing to protect children.
When I've spoken to high school students about the history of child abuse, the Mary-Ellen Wilson story is one that grips them. It's an American story known worldwide, a story I'll share with you . . .
However, it took the advent of radiology and x-rays for child abuse and neglect to become recognizable.
In 1960, C. Henry Kempe was shocked and alarmed by the large numbers of children admitted to his pediatric service suffering from what were obviously non-accidental injuries. X-rays revealed old breaks and abnormal skeletal changes.
In 1962, Kempe and his colleagues published "The Battered Child Syndrome" in The Journal of the American Medical Association (Gelles, 1993, p. 36).
Because of radiology, physical abuse and child neglect were officially recognized in the 1960s, but it took another decade for sexual abuse to be acknowledged. It wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that emotional child abuse was recognized.
So here we are, in 2008. . . the 4 types of child maltreatment are recognizable, but child abuse is not just in our history; it continues today in disturbing numbers. Child abuse and the resulting injuries that children and youth suffer are still far from understood. We have a definition to the problem, but no answers. One child advocate making strides in providing answers is the United Nations through their Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Canada has signed the UN Convention and has enacted, and continues to enact, federal and provincial legislation to further protect children and youth from abuse, violence and exploitation.
It is important to understand that perpetrators of child abuse are not restricted to the family. Children worldwide continue to be sold into slavery and the sex trade.
WORLDWIDE CHILD ABUSE STATISTICS:
In the United States, April is Child Abuse Prevention month. If you live in America, find out what your community has planned in April, then get involved. You owe it to the children, to yourself, and to your future.
For more child abuse statistics and facts:
Sitemap provides a complete listing of pages on this site.
Child Abuse History
NOTE: Information pages on this site were based on material from the Canadian Red Cross RespectED Training Program. Written permission was obtained to use their copyrighted material on this site.
1 Mead, M. (1963). Totem and taboo reconsidered with respect. Menninger Clinic Bulletin, 27, 185-199.
2 & 3 & 4 Bagnell, K. (1985). The little immigrants. Toronto: MacMillan.
5 Finkelhor, D. (1986). A sourcebook on child sexual abuse. Beverly Hills: SAGE Publications, Inc.
6 Gelles, R. (1993). Family violence. In R. Hampton, T. Gullotta, G. Adams, E. Potter & R. Weissberg (Eds.), Family violence: Prevention and treatment (pp.1-24). Newbury Park: SAGE Publications, Inc.
7 Casa Alianza (2001, December 18). Report on trafficking of children in Central America and Mexico. Retrieved December 18, 2001 from http://www.casa-alianza.org
8 Human Rights Watch (2001). Easy targets: Violence against children worldwide.
9 World Health Organization (2001). Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect: Making the links between human rights and public health. Geneva: WHO.