With schools around the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, child welfare groups have warned about higher rates and increased severity of child abuse, especially in cases where parents are working from home or unemployed.
With the virus mostly contained in Taiwan and life largely back to normal, it seems the nation should be free of such problems.
However, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital physician Hsin Yi-chen (辛宜臻) said that job losses and furloughs due to the pandemic might increase child abuse rates in Taiwan, citing a study the hospital conducted in 2018.
The effects might not be apparent yet, as many people still receive unemployment benefits. However, Hsin urged the government and private sector to allocate more resources to prevent child abuse among high-risk families.
The study found that for every 1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, the incidence of child abuse increased by seven per 10,000 children in the following year.
This means that there might be up to 2,500 more abused children next year if the unemployment rate increases by 1 percentage point.
Nearly 30,000 people were on unpaid leave as of the end of June due to the pandemic — most of them in the manufacturing sector, as activity in the industry has slowed due to a decline in foreign demand for Taiwanese exports, Ministry of Labor data showed. The number of furloughed workers last week jumped by 1,877 from the previous week, which shows that the problem is far from over. The international transportation and tourism sectors have also been affected, and their futures remain unclear as the virus continues to ravage the rest of the world.
The government and child welfare groups should take action before the situation spirals into a crisis, whether by staging interventions, providing counseling or devoting more resources to helping at-risk families.
The problem of child abuse is already a thorn in Taiwan’s side, despite lawmakers last year amending the Criminal Code to impose harsher penalties on abusers. The Taiwan Fund for Children and Families in May reported that the nation last year set a reprehensible record with 73,000 reported cases of child abuse, with most of the abusers being parents or relatives of the children.
Chang Gung Memorial Hospital said that while it usually treats one case of severe child abuse per year, it has already treated two alarming cases in May and June, in which the children had sustained spinal injuries.
There is also the problem of children being mistreated at childcare centers, which needs to be examined further.
Harsher punishments for offenders is just one piece of the puzzle; more comprehensive and extensive family education, as well as intervention and prevention methods, are also needed.
Misguided child disciplining attitudes seem to be a big part of the issue, as 34 percent of those surveyed by the fund said that corporal punishment is acceptable. There is a fine line between corporal punishment and abuse, and it is often a slippery slope once a parent who is not in control of their emotions gets into the habit of disciplining their child this way.
This does not include emotional or verbal abuse, which could lead to even more long-lasting harm that might not become apparent until the children reach adulthood, when they might perpetuate the cycle by abusing their own children.
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