Child Abuse: Our Place in a Disturbing Human Phenomenon
Too often are we exposed to haunting accounts, unprepossessing memoirs of silent victims of a problem that is as endemic as poverty in the savannah belt of Ghana. The problem is one that ought to touch a universal chord since it affects us all. Child Abuse is a subject that many of us can relate to; not necessarily because we were victims of abuse ourselves but because human beings have a God given intuition to discern the ugliness of abuse and injustice even from distant peripheries.
According to NSPCC statistics “a quarter (25 per cent) of children experienced one or more forms of physical violence during childhood. This includes being hit with an implement, being hit with a fist or kicked, shaken, thrown or knocked down, beaten up, choked, burned or scalded on purpose, or threatened with a knife or gun. Of this 25 per cent of children, the majority had experienced 'some degree of physical abuse’ by parents or carers.”
These statistics are certainly shocking and reveal an acute parenting problem. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught that everyone is accountable in their spheres of influence and authority, especially in the domain of parenthood.
“Every one of your (people) is a shepherd. And every one is responsible for whatever falls under his responsibility. A man is like a shepherd of his own family, and he is responsible for them.” - Bukhari and Muslim
He taught therefore never to strike a child, to be fair with regards the distribution of gifts to more than one child, so that envy, jealousy and contempt do not eat away at the child. He taught to be expressive of one’s love for children so that the child, irrespective of his/her weaknesses, faults or disabilities, always feels loved. There can be no reciprocation of love except by showing affection in the first place. The Prophet taught to “Fear Allah and treat your children [small or grown] fairly (with equal justice).” Bukhari and Muslim
A companion of the Prophet once reported: "I went along with Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) at a time during the day but he did not talk to me and I did not talk to him until he reached the market of Bany Qaynuqa. He came back to the tent of Fatimah (his daughter), and said, "Is the little chap (meaning his grandson Al-Hasan) there?" We were under the impression that his mother had detained him in order to bathe him and dress him and garland him with sweet garland. Not much time had passed that he (Al-Hasan) came running until both of them embraced each other, thereupon Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "O Allah, I love him; love him and love the one who loves him."
There are of course many strands of abuse, including verbal abuse and mental trauma. The aberration of freedom of speech that allows the parent the autonomy to speak in whatever fashion they choose means that there is a blasé attitude about how the minds of our young are nourished in the school of parenting. A child’s emotional scars are the ones that take longer to heal; children’s self-esteem is intimately connected to their parents’ consideration of them - when young it is the parents who the child seeks to impress. In Islam there is no real concept of ‘freedom of speech’; the opposite is in fact truer. Muslims believe that everything they utter, from blasphemy to profanity, words of moral teaching to pretentious preaching, will be placed on the scale of accountability in the Hereafter. Whilst there may be few effective social regulations to discipline those whose ‘words kill,’ we should not feel safe from the Day of Reckoning where all wrongs will be considered.
It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) kissed his grandson Al-Hasan in the presence of Al-Aqra` bin Habis. Thereupon the latter remarked: "I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them." The Prophet looked at him and said, "He who does not show mercy to others will not be shown mercy"
For an abused child, any break from abuse is an intervallic and momentary period of ‘bliss.’ A child can walk through the school gates, for example, thinking nothing but ‘joy’ and penetrate into the smooth fabric of a different, safer world where the nightmare of the previous night’s beatings can seem like a distant lifetime ago. Some children grow to find the greatest comfort in the smallest and seemingly most mundane things, whether the smell of clean bed sheets or rare moments, hours or days without abuse. How different then are our lives. Whilst some children dream of enjoying a chocolate bar in secrecy, salvaging the smallest pieces for another moment of innocent indulgence or bathing in leisure unconcerned about the consequences of their happiness, we ought to think deeply about these strands of our human social reality so that we never become the thing we claim to loath so much.
Circumstances surrounding the death of Baby P were unquestionably heart-wrenching; our thoughts and feelings became entirely mirrored by something so indescribable that the comment, ‘I can’t stop thinking about Baby P’, or ‘I thought I was the only one being haunted by this story’, resounded at many junctions of human conversation in the weeks following the murder. Britain was drawn against a scenario that not only revealed the extent of failures in its social services system, but also reminded us that any sentence for the crimes of the child’s killers will be one that is in no respect representative of the horrific crimes committed. We shudder collectively and are kept awake at night at the thought that there is another child just like Baby P still suffering somewhere. Whilst there is resentment at the failings of local councils following the deaths of Victoria Kimberly, Baby P and so many others, there is another layer of human emotion contained within our search for justice for those killed so brutally. The spate of stabbings in these years has further intensified our quest.
Abuse inflicted on a child is one of the most horrific displays of violence and most sinister breaches of trust. What makes this kind of abuse so difficult to understand, primarily for the child, is that those who are charged to love instead hate, those who ought to protect instead harm. For the child ‘yes’ is taught to be ‘no’, ‘black’ becomes ‘white’ and ‘up’ becomes ‘down’. In most cases children feel responsible for the insane punishment inflicted on them. A child struggles to understand the notion of punishment; he struggles to know what behaviour is expected from him when his guardian, oftentimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs, has lost all sense of logical reasoning.
"They ask you concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say: “In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit." -Al-Qur’an, 2:219
Essentially the child becomes isolated into a life that he fails to understand, and his evaluation of correct and incorrect behaviour is warped because his educator has inverted and violated some of the most basic educational principles – namely, that a child that is resented will oftentimes grow to resent, a child that lives with constant criticism often learns to condemn. It is not entirely surprising therefore that some of the most horrific acts of school violence have been committed by former students who were once bullied in the school and in turn grew up only to understand the language of vengeance against everyone, bullies, bystanders or even anti-bullying campaigners. Such acts are in fact predominant in societies with loose gun regulations – all in the name of protecting civil liberties. There are many causes to the problems we see on a day to day basis but there is a gross disinterest to scrutinise the values that lead to such problems.
A companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said: “O Prophet of Allah! I have granted a servant to one of my children (asking him to testify for that gift).” But the Prophet asked: “Did you grant the same to each and every child of yours?” When the Prophet was informed negatively about that, he said: “Fear Allah, the Almighty, and be fair and just to all your children. Seek the testimony of another person, other than me. I will not testify to an act of injustice.” – Bukhari and Muslim
The values of Islam are strikingly dissimilar to those of liberalism. Atomistic propensities should have no place in our lives; Islam encourages instead finding value and happiness in facilitating the happiness of others, irrespective of the costs afforded especially with regards children. The Prophet taught the importance of giving valuable time to children in even our busiest moments; a child’s worth, consideration of him/herself is timely connected to self-esteem, happiness and confidence.
A companion of the Prophet narrated: “The Messenger of Allah came towards us while carrying Umamah the daughter of Abi Al-`As (the Prophet’s granddaughter) over his shoulder. He prayed, and when he wanted to bow, he put her down, and when he stood up he lifted her up.” Bukhari
According to London’s Family Education Trust children are more than 30 times more likely to suffer serious abuse and 73 times more likely to suffer fatal abuse in the home of a mother with a live-in boyfriend or stepfather than in an intact family . The maintenance of the family must be considered in special view of the effect of a breakup on a child; whereas divorce is a normal human phenomenon, in any case atomistic tendencies must be consigned in favour of those that are considerate for a child’s physical and mental wellbeing. The government is often bent on suppressing the rights of biological fathers whilst the child is in custody of the mother and her boyfriend. Sometimes the removal of the child’s natural protector allows the single mother and her boyfriends the impunity to abuse, all the while far off the radar. Oftentimes it seems that the government is more intent on creating problems for itself to solve rather than seriously considering the erosion of family values in British society.
Non-cohesive values of atomism most certainly produce non-cohesive people; many cases of child abuse are incepted by one individual’s self-interested decision to escape the pressures of life by drinking; one person’s gratification thus becomes another’s maltreatment. In an affront to human dignity, we are told that legislation must change to deter individuals from abusing, and to provide a safety net to protect the vulnerable. But legislation of course is established upon values; if a society’s values are set up to meet atomistic ends then legislation in turn will be found to protect individual liberties at the expense of society’s continued decadence. I believe that cohesive Islamic values, unsullied by human cravings for atomistic ends fused with divine legislation, the Shari’ah, based on consistent principles aimed at the protection of life, wealth and honour will provide us with the passé-partout to much needed erudition about behavioural learning and development leading to a more meaningful communal harmony.
“And those who believe and whose families follow them in Faith, to them shall We join their families: Nor shall We deprive them (of the fruit) of aught of their works: (Yet) is each individual in pledge for his deeds.” – Al-Qur’an, 52:21
 Home Office (2004) Crime in England and Wales 2002-3: Supplementary Volume 1, Homicide and Gun Crime.
 (London: Family Education Trust, 1993), p. 29.)
By Ustadh Uthman Lateef