Violence against Children

“Child Abuse”

By: Maryam Falahati


The spread of intentional physical and mental violence against children from their parents or guardians has been extensively noticeable and revealed over the last few decades. By becoming more transparent, the violence that is committed against children, we discover that children are more susceptible to become victims of violence than adults.

The dependency of children and especially traditional beliefs that parents and grownups have total rights over children has exposed children to violence. On top of this traditional beliefs that say children are not reliable witnesses, has on time and time again resulted in not listening or ignoring children’s complaints or cries for help.

It is a crying shame for mankind, when smallest and most vulnerable member of the human race must wait longer than others to have the right to physical health and their social identity be officially recognised, and be protected from violence.

In this article violence is defined as “a kind of intentional behaviour of people towards people that could inflict physical or mental injuries”.

 The Cycle of Violence

There are no simple definitions to the cycle of violence. There is no doubt that direct experience with violence and neglect during childhood, increases the risk of violent behaviour during adulthood. However not all children victims turn to violence later in life.

 Domestic Violence against Children

Although domestic violence can appear in different forms and the awareness levels of people and their reactions to it may vary, however the importance and extent of this predicament is a global issue. The family is the most important and the original institution of society for bringing up and protecting children. However this same institution can be the cause of violence, pain and suffering. All over this planet, women and children are murdered, maimed, are assaulted and battered, and sold. Millions of human beings are suffering in the confines of their families, and unfortunately knowledge and information about this is only the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg that still many believe it to be their private domain.

 Definition of Child Abuse

According to World Health Organization (WHO) the term child abuse is any behaviour directed toward a child by a parent, guardian, care giver, other family member, or other adult, that endangers or impairs a child’s physical or emotional health and development.

Different forms of child abuse are:

1 – Sexual abuse

2 – Neglect

3 – Emotional abuse

4 – Physical abuse

 Sexual Child Abuse

Any form of sexual exploitation for the fulfilment of sexual needs such as, sexual intercourse, touching up and any kind of behaviour that is sexual towards children is deemed sexual child abuse.

Sexual child abuse like other forms of violence against children is not something new, however due to its increasing transparency throughout all societies there are positive moves that are taken in support of children. It seems that most sexual child abuse cases take place within the home and by their relatives; although it does not go without saying that it does not take place outside of the family either.

Just like physical violence identifying sexual abuse against children is followed by identifying sexual abuse against women, and in the majority of cases those that commit sexual abuse are men. Today in most societies assault or sex without consent regardless of age is prohibited.

The definition of sexual exploitation of children in most societies includes any sexual activity that either is done without consent or even the child’s consent is not legally standing. According to the definition any form of sexual activity with the adults in the family is a crime. Studies indicate that incest is committed by men of the family, the father, brother or uncle.

Young girls are more threatened with the dangers of sexual exploitation. The numbers of girl children who are sexually exploited are higher than any other group. On top of this pornography which is a derivation of sexual exploitation of children and especially organized sexual exploitation is the publication of the fundamental shameful act against children. In this form of child abuse not only photos and films of children are published but other children can be in danger of exposure and viewing of these obscene images.

Unfortunately despite all attempts child pornography has increased on the Internet and other new technologies.

 What about Neglect?

Child neglect is the continued failure to provide a child with necessary care and protection including adequate shelter, food, clothing, medical care, etc. Lack of appropriate supervision, especially for young children, for extended periods of time is also considered child neglect. Signs of possible neglect include:

- Appears poorly nourished or inadequately clothed;

- Appears consistently tired or listless;

- Inconsistent attendance at school;

- Lack of good hygiene or an obsession with cleanliness;

- Is regularly left alone in dangerous situation, or over long periods of time;

- Exhibits evidence that medical needs are not being met;

- Unable to relate well to adults or has trouble forming close relationships.

 Emotional and Mental Abuse

Children, and especially dependent children, are particularly vulnerable to mental abuse committed by their parents and others. Different forms of this type of violence can be from cursing and reproach, to humiliation and insults, all of which result in the alienation and harassment of the child. Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child uses the term “emotional violence” and points out to the necessity to pay attention to the direct and indirect effects of domestic violence against children. Studies on domestic violence have shown that acts of mental or physical violence committed by parents to each other leave deep emotional scars on the children.

Children that are subjected to emotional violence and humiliation by their parents or teachers, lack in self confidence and suffer from emotional problems during adulthood. These individuals caught in the cycle of violence could possibly become violent in adulthood.

 Physical Abuse

Physical child abuse comes in numerous degrees. One of the most extreme forms is the murder of infants (infanticide) which is committed in most parts of the world. In a study that was carried out on 285 murders in the United Kingdom between 1989 and 1991 where the victims were under eighteen, only 13% had been murdered by strangers and 60% of the murders were committed by the parents. Similar statistics have also been reported in the United States and Australia. There are four times as many children under one-year-old murdered than those above. Studies show that emotional pressures and running away from responsibilities towards their children are the main reasons for these murders.

Of other forms of physical abuse against children is corporal punishment on the excuse of discipline. Almost everywhere around the world, disciplining children and smacking them or hitting tem with a belt or stick is very common in families and the law supports it. In other words, disciplining children is the only form of violence which is seen legal. This is while even a minor assault against an adult is considered as a criminal offence.

Why if violence is not permissible and acceptable for adults then why is it legal for children?

In the cycle of violence, physical violence against children will cause this to happen again in the future from the same child victim who will be a violent adult in the future who will be a threat to the health of society.

 Why do Adults Hurt Children?

- Maybe because they are angry with the child’s behaviour.

- Because they are under pressure and they release these pressures on the children. (Women who are subjected to violence are generally abusive towards their children.)

- Lack of enough information on how to treat unruly children correctly.

- When children realise that they are subjected to violence from their parents. This improper method is seen by them [children] as a kind of disciplining process. In fact today’s child abusers are themselves victims of wrongful treatment and abuse during childhood.

 Ways to Prevent Child Abuse

1 – For establishing healthy and solid family and having children, free practical education for young couples. This education must include correct child upbringing methods and especially methods of disciplining without aggression and violent behaviour.

2 – Set up and support of protection centres, especially NGOs active in this field, for the purpose of the protection of vulnerable and victim children.

3 – Efforts in the removal of legal obstacles in the way of fighting child abuse.

 Child Abuse in Iran

Approximately 46% of the population of Iran is under 18 years of age, and Iran is one of the youngest societies in the world. Child abuse and exploitation in Iran is the same as anywhere else, in four way: physical, sexual, emotional and neglect.

The Iranian society is a moving society. It is moving from a traditionalistic knit into an industrial one. After the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child the subject of child abuse has been brought to serious attention in Iran.

According to a report by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPRC) an Iranian NGO, in 2002 approximately 135 child abuse cases were reported to this organization, 35 of whom had been abused by their fathers, 20 by their mothers, and 16 had been abused by both parents. Nearly 80% of these children had been abused by their parents or a family member.

Bearing in mind that this organization conducts its activities mainly in Tehran and also not everyone knows about the organization, it can be said that the statistics for child abuse in Iran is a lot higher. Most child abuse cases in Iran are carried out by those very near to the child.

Crimes committed against children are in two groups, one is criminal intentions and unintentional or compassion. Based on studies the elements of child abuse can be linked to the following conditions in Iran:

1 – Poverty

2 – Addiction

3 – Psychological imbalance.

Also out of these factors there are the patriarchal cultural factors, the existence of sexual discrimination between boys and girls are also factors in abuse.

Another factor which increases abuse is the existence of weaknesses in the law for the fight against child abuse and its reduction in Iran.

 Forms of Child Abuse in Iran

In a survey carried out on parents of children in 1999, they were asked how they treated their children. Fifteen percent said that they only got cross with their children. Thirteen percent said that they punished their children only upon repeat of the misbehaviour. Seven percent did not believe in punishing children and only 3.6% believed that children should be punished.

What is interesting here is that 60% of those surveyed believed that Tehran families punished their children and this statistic is higher in mothers. Elements that create the conditions for the appearance of chid abuse in Iran can be linked to poverty, addiction and psychological imbalance.

There is a direct link between abuse of girls at secondary school and poverty. Antisocialism and paranoia is a common disorder for psychologically imbalanced parents. In a survey carried out in a Tehran clinic, 80% of the families of child abuse victims are drug and substance abusers, and this is by far the highest cause of child abuse.

Twenty-one percent of the population of Iran have psychological problems, 25.9% are women and 14.9% are men. Based on the statistics it must be said that child abuse in Iran is on the increase.


 Sexual Abuse in Iran

Eighty percent of sexual abuses committed against children in Iran are committed in the family and by the closest person to the victim, i.e. father, step-father, brother or uncle. The majority of sexual abuse victims are girls.

Relatives and people outside of the house can also commit these crimes against children. In all these cases because the child is humiliated therefore very rarely will the child disclose his or her ordeal. On the other hand due to the traditionalistic knit o f the Iranian society and the law, it is becomes very difficult to testify or prove sexual issues. First of all a child’s testimony is not legal in court and secondly in order to prove this crime in accordance to Islamic laws, a witness to the crime must testify.

In 2000 a two-and-a-half year old boy was admitted to one of Shoushtar’s (in Khuzistan province) hospitals. Upon examination it was discovered that he had been raped on several occasions. These rapes had taken place in the family and been committed by the boy’s uncle. Despite all doctors’ efforts, both kidneys of the boy failed due to the internal injuries sustained as a result of the repeated rapes. He is now on a dialysis machine. The disgusting point here is that the offender has not been brought to justice; only the boy has been taken away from the family.

 Actions Taken for Filling Legal Gaps in Iran

In the event of the ratification of a draft legislation on the protection of children made in November 2002, by the Islamic parliament, it would be a very important step towards the realisation of children’s rights in Iran. What is important is that this draft legislation has deemed child abuse as a public offence, which means there will not be a need for a plaintiff for criminal proceedings. This means that even parents can be prosecuted. Sadly though the Guardian Council objected to this draft and said parents should be exempt from this bill. This means if child abuse is committed by the parent or parents then they cannot be legally brought to justice. Although this draft bill has its shortcomings, but in general, it is a positive step forward for the realisation of the rights of the children of our country.


Legal Shortfalls Concerning Child Abuse in Iran

1 – Article 1179 of the Iranian Civil Code

“Parents have the right to discipline their children; however this right cannot overstep the limits of discipline.”

Considering that this article has not defined the limits to which parents can go in disciplining their children, has given parents the permit to commit violence against their children. The murder of a child by his father in February 2003 because his low grades in one of the subjects at school which was apparently for disciplinary intentions is a clear example of the weakness of the law. The father of the child went unpunished!

2 – Article 220 of the Islamic Punishment Law

“The father or anyone on the father’s side of the child who kills the child cannot be avenged and is only punished by paying atonement.”

This article is a clear contradiction to Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is why 90% of child abuse cases in Iran are unpunished and immune from prosecution.

In September 2002 a 7 year old girl had her throat slit by her father. He thought that the child had been raped. The autopsy however revealed that she had not been raped at all.

In Abadan a cruel father hit his son and daughter (11) so hard with a chain that the girl died.

In all these and similar cases because the guardian of the victim is the father, he only gets sentenced to pay Diah (atonement) and imprisonment; and because the plaintiff is usually the mother, in most cases she withdraws the complaint in the fear of her family life falling apart.

Statistics show that 70% of the children of Tehran are punished and disciplined, and 27.7% of Tehran families are involved in domestic violence. It is certain that the real figures for child abuse throughout Iran is put at almost 30,000, and only 1,500 cases have been prosecuted in court.