Leave those kids alone

30-May-2019 Intellasia | Bangkok Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

New Unicef campaign aims to make violence against children a thing of the past

A father begins to raise his voice at the back of a restaurant, complaining about his daughter’s bad grades. The conversation ends with the sound of slaps. The customers, who have heard the girl plead for her father to stop, look at each other and begin to whisper.

The girl, who has been serving the customers, returns to the tables with noticeable bruises. Everyone’s discomfort and worry is apparent. Tension grows inside the restaurant. The violence is unacceptable. Yet, none of the customers intervene.

Fortunately, this was only a social experiment by Unicef, set up to gauge public reaction to violence against children.

“We planned to report after leaving the restaurant,” said a man who had come to eat there with a colleague.

All those interviewed agreed that the punishment was a form of violence and therefore unacceptable, with several remarking on the visible bruises on the girl’s body. Despite this, many said they saw it as a private family matter and did not wish to interfere.

In most cases, those who witness violence against children sympathise with the victims. However, many don’t know how to react or are reluctant to get involved. Some fear for their own safety if they intervene directly or worry their identity may be uncovered if they file a complaint with authorities. Many believe violence within the family is a private matter.

Aimed at promoting public participation in ending violence against children in Thailand, Unicef and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) have recently launched the campaign “One Thousand Nightmares Can End With Your One Voice”.

The campaign urges members of the public to call the 1300 Social Assistance Centre, a 24-hour service operated by MSDHS, to report social problems like child abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation. The call centre locates vulnerable children and connects them with appropriate child protection services, such as emergency rescue, medical and social service referral, professional counselling, and psychosocial support for the child and their family.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, data collected from 622 hospitals nationwide revealed that nearly 9,000 children were treated in hospitals due to physical and sexual abuse in 2017. These cases are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg; frequently, only the most severe cases of abuse are reported, and even this may only happen after repeated episodes.

Data from the National Statistical Office in 2015-2016 points in the same direction. It found that some 4 percent of children aged one to 14around 470,000 childrenhad experienced severe physical punishment at home. However, only around 3,200 cases of violence against children are reported to Helpline 1300 each year on average.

“Violence has left too many children living with nightmares day after day,” said Thomas Davin, Unicef Representative for Thailand. “But those nightmares can be stopped if members of the public who suspect or witness child abuse intervene or pick up the phone and report the cases.”

Unicef studies show that domestic violence toward children is often the result of a traditionally acceptable approach to parenting. Many Thais grow up with physical punishment such as hitting or smacking as the norm. Consequently, they adopt a similar approach toward their own children. Research indicates, however, that while such punishment might temporarily put a stop to undesired behaviour, it doesn’t tend to lead to long-lasting behavioural change or instil a sense of discipline in the child.

Worse, the negative consequences may be far more serious. Injuries such as cuts and bruises will heal over time. But the psychological impact can be far longer-lasting. Child victims are also more likely to absorb the violence and see it as normal, increasing the likelihood of them being violent toward others.

Be on the lookout for signs of abuse. Physically, a child may sustain cuts, bruises or even broken bones. These often get mistaken for accidents. Behaviour such as aggressiveness, depression or anxiety can also be indicative of abuse.

The cycle of violence will never end if the victims don’t receive help. director of the Social Assistance Centre, Darunee Manaswanich, encourages anyone who witnesses or learns about violence to report the case.

However, she advises caution over recording cases of violence on smartphones. Because of the fear of getting involved, some have chosen this method to highlight abuse. But sharing such videos on social media, even with right intentions, doesn’t always work out as intended.

“Sometimes after a clip has gone viral, the case gets solved and the child is saved. But the humiliation [of being a victim] remains, making it difficult for the child or their family to continue their lives afterwards,” said Darunee.

The best thing to do, therefore, is to call Helpline 1300 and allow highly trained officials to launch a response and ensure the child’s safety and security. This involves conducting a field visit, which the officials carry out with the help of police officers, a medical team and social workers. This is done not only to ensure the child’s safety but also to work with caretakers/guardians to strengthen parenting skills.

Calling the Helpline doesn’t necessarily mean that the child will be separated from the family. According to the Social Assistance centre, in February 2019, out of all the reported cases, 70 percent of the children stayed with their families after counselling and working with family members. While it was decided that the other 30 percent of children would be best protected at a shelter, there was still the hope that they could return to their family once the situation improved.

Fortunately, there are signs people are no longer willing to view violent punishment of children as a private matter. Wirun Tutabtim once heard the sound of a crying two-year-old boy from a neighbouring apartment room at midnight. He stepped in and asked the father to stop hitting his son, whose body was covered in bruises.

Upon checking the CCTV footage, it was discovered that the father had used a plastic broom handle to hit his son, punched him in the chest and eye, and kicked the boy in the face.

Wirun called the Helpline 1300 for help and filed a complaint with police the next morning. The footage was used as an evidence.

“I couldn’t hold back my tears after watching the footage. I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if I hadn’t helped the boy out of the situation,” said the 43-year-old Wirun. “I don’t want people to see violence as a family matter. Then, it will remain trivial.”

Unicef’s Davin agrees and calls on the public to play a more active role in protecting endangered children before it’s too late.

“Every child has the right to be protected, to enjoy a safe and happy childhood. No child should ever live in fear,” he concluded.



Category: Society

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