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Child Abuse Will Continue Until We Rethink Children's Rights

We live in a society where children are constantly told to "do as their told" without explanation. The mantra "always do as adults say" passed down for generations. So when that means being told to put up with forced sexual activity by an adult and staying quiet about it, guess what sometimes happens?

This week nu-metal band Lostprophets frontman, Ian Watkins, pleaded guilty to attempted rape of a baby and sexual assault of a child under 13. Watkins also admitted three counts of sexual assault involving other children and six involving taking, making or possessing indecent images of children.

What is most unique about these crimes is the brazen details. Watkins' laptop, containing child pornography had the password 'If***kids' to access it. Retained mobile text messages referencing abusive acts revealed the sadism of the situation and that Watkins' wasn't in denial, in fear of being caught or ashamed. Usually, child abuse does not have records revealing it and doesn't come to light at all.

We live in a society where children are constantly told to "do as their told" without explanation. The mantra "always do as adults say" passed down for generations. So when that means being told to put up with forced sexual activity by an adult and staying quiet about it, guess what sometimes happens? That doesn't mean it's isn't unconsensual - it means we should encourage children to feel free to object to things. When schools are modeled on the not questioning the authority of adults it renders children second-class citizens (I can't help but think being told to "shut up" on a daily basis makes a person anything else), we don't need to wonder why most children are not believed about abuse, if they're input into their own lives is discarded as a norm.

Let's remember children are the only people in society adults are legally allowed to assault. If you're allowed to hit children, what's the problem with a bit more physical activity they find painful and didn't consent to? It's an obvious line of logic. Why such unequal rights regarding physical assault? Why is consent for physical acts on children not needed? These double-standards exist pure upon age, not ability or development.

We seem to spend so much time trying to discipline children, their our thousands of books about the best methods. Actually, these books only reflect attempts to mould them into our own desired subjects. Parent/child interaction often becomes about modes of control - not their safety, happiness or allowing for their development. If anything, we actually need to be regulating the behaviour of adults around children a lot more. Who commits the greater number of sexual and violent crimes against others? Certainly not minors. So why are we so heavy handed with our claimed authority over children? It says more power structures within institutions, schools, charities, hospitals and our own impotence. We should always side with the weakest and most vulnerable - and children are the most vulnerable.

Why are many so quick to dismiss children's perspectives and wishes? Children have no freedom of choice apart from that bestowed on them by the benevolence (or malevolence) of adults around them. Perhaps there needs to be a Children's Rights movement. So often adults sneer, "they don't know what's good for them" or "they don't have the ability to decide things for themselves", but when compared with the decisions adults make (the aforementioned crime statistics) actually kids appear far more levelheaded. This is often when people contradict themselves and say, "well, kids aren't capable of most things", in such a case, what's the problem then? They don't need authoritarian control if not capable of terrible acts. I'm not asserting they aren't (I'm the same age James Bulger would've been), but both positions cannot be held simultaneously - both the denial of children's power and the wielding of power over them to control their enormous capacity. Ultimately, the whole discussion around children needs to change, from protection to education.

When a child is taken to the doctor who is typically asked to recollect the child's experience of the illness? The child themselves? No, the adult. Even at an age when a child can speak for themselves. This is how Munchausen Syndrome, a disorder involving parents fabricating a child's illnesses for attention, is allowed to continue unabated. Something so simple as taking a child's recollection of their own subjective experience into account would hamper abuse and neglect.

In a similar vain social workers are taught to spot signs of neglect from untidy houses, thinking this neglect extends to children. Social workers mainly visit council estates and are trained to spot the tells of 'social' deprivation. So if a middle-class child attending private school and looks tidy from afar is being mistreated, how is that abuse or neglect to be spotted? It commonly isn't. There's no stereotype of social workers knocking on doors in Dulwich.

Perhaps if we felt obligated to treat children better, considered them equals (what a radical concept!) because they are in fact human beings too, we'd be more outraged when we discover their maltreatment. It's very easy to get faux-enraged at a 'PEDO' headline of a red top newspaper and far more difficult to step in when abuse is taking place.

There is something Kafkaesque about the impoverished care we provide for vulnerable children in our society. Statically, over 50% of children who enter local authority care later go to prison. Should such a system really have the word 'care' associated with it? Clearly the sort of provisions and foundation in life from which to build a positive future are not present for the majority of young people it 'cares' for.

Childhood is a crucial time of life and when a great deal of the development that creates us as later adults takes place. Abuse or mistreatment at this time is all the more devastating due to children's psyche's still forming, leaving them with little chance to make sense of any trauma they may suffer. We absolutely need to become as intolerance against abuse or mistreatment of children as we are other forms of oppression in society. That starts with a fight for equality - children are not lesser beings; they should be considered our equals in terms of status and rights. Equality shouldn't ever be a radical notion.

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