The environment of the child, his/ her vulnerability and the pathology of the abuser are very crucial elements when one factors in the reasons behind the increasing number of child abuse cases being reported from all parts of the State.

Alcoholism or substance abuse habit of the father, disjointed family relations, the vulnerability of the mother vis-a-vis the power relations within the household and more importantly, the underlying mental illnesses or personality disorders of the parents are all key factors which seem to have some link to the increasing instances of child abuse.

“In many cases of child abuse, the child involved may have additional vulnerabilities – he may be either physically disabled or may have a slight mental decline or a lower IQ. He may have some behavioural problems or conduct disorders which might be part of his personality and needs careful handling.

But if the parent has an anti-social personality and an inherent streak of violence, the child gets punished for his ‘bad behaviour’ and the punishment often descends into mindless physical violence,” points out T.V Anilkumar, Professor of Psychiatry, who is in charge of the Child and Adolescent clinic at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College

Early identification of the abuse is not always easy because children often tend to suffer the abuse silently out of fear.

He may have internalised the violence and may not communicate it to an outsider at all, Dr. Anilkumar says.

Alcoholism and substance abuse seems to be one of the main factors triggering domestic violence.

Coupled with an environment of deprivation and over-crowded living situations, the risk of children being subjected to physical violence is very high.

Children who grow up in this environment of violence and emotional neglect, often would have inherited the borderline personality and abusive pathology of the parent himself. The parent often may not realise that he or she is seeing a reflection of himself/herself in the child’s behaviour and retaliates in violence.

In the upper strata of society, one may not see extreme physical violence inflicted on children but a lot of children suffer from emotional abuse and neglect by parents.

There have been many attempts from within the health system to reach out to abused children through school counsellors and teachers but at a certain level, the apathy of the community and neighbourhood in intervening in such social issues prevents authorities from following up these children properly, feels P. S. Kiran, psychiatrist and nodal officer for the District Mental Health Programme.

“It is the apathy and indifference of society which perpetrates incidents like the one at Kattappana. Domestic violence has become a way of life for many women in Kerala and children too are becoming victims of this violence. Domestic violence happens inside families and we are too ‘civilised’ to intervene in ‘family fights’. Don’t we have a collective responsibility in preventing child abuse?,” asks J. Sandhya, lawyer and social activist.

Unfortunately, child victims of abuse, physical or emotional, tend to be scarred for life and they grow up to be abusers themselves, it is pointed out. “Ïf we can provide them the love and stability of at least one parent, good nurturing and focussed care on moulding their personality through education and other extra-curricular interests, we may be able to put them on the path of recovery,” Dr. Anilkumar says.

In the upper strata of society, one may not see extreme physical violence inflicted on children, but a lot of children suffer from emotional abuse and neglect by parents.