Child abuse: eradicating social stigma; tackling the issue

The local media is reporting more openly on child abuse. It has been a no-no issue for a long time; not that it didn’t happen. The matter has been a kind of taboo. The topic becomes even more relevant within the public sphere when official records show an increase in child abuse cases in all forms, in the various governorates of the country.
Since 2016, when reports start to appear on the pages of newspapers, it has been mostly a list of numbers of offences, followed by policies, seminars, and training to address the issue. Slowly, media and officials are addressing the stigma and the wrongdoing.
Media reporting based on official data indicated that from January 1 until June 30, 2018, there were 1,000 cases of child abuse in the country. Another more recent reportage focused on the 646 figure as the number of cases registered last year — this amount was in the 1,000 cases reported via the protection hotline (1100) and the child protection committees.
As many as 336 cases of child abuse happened from July-September 2018. Without adding the data from October to December, the number of cases of all forms of abuse would have raised considerably. Softening up the numbers does not help to address the issue.
In 2019, the local media reported three cases of sexual assault involving kids under the age of 11 years. If scratched it a bit harder, the gravity of this type of offence could be the tip of a deeper problem. Figure on child abuse was first ever released in 2016. There were 299 cases; 118 sexual harassment, according to media reports.
Muscat features with the highest overall number of offences. As the capital and higher rate of population, people and children are better exposed to media and awareness campaigns. Children in rural areas are less exposed to dialogue or even to openly talk to their parents or teachers about possible physical assaults — even more so if the abuse is by a close relative or a friend of the family.
A 24/7 child protection hotline was launched in January 2017, with the aim to combat any abuse of children under the age of 18 years old. Among the cases reported are physical abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect.
One of the cruelest examples of child abuse refers to a 3-year-old boy. His case was part of a research study followed by an academic article published in February 2012. Titled ‘Child Maltreatment Types and Effects: Series of Six cases from a university in Oman’, in which registered the case of a boy who was sexually abused by three teenaged male relatives during the weekly visits to the father’s family home. In cases as such, there is no hotline, awareness, or dialogue.
It is important to encourage the population to talk about abuses committed against children. Dialogue between adults and children need to happen. However, children need to feel safe to speak to parents or teachers. The population also needs to know the negative impact of such actions on children and their development.
Discussing broadly the law with its jail terms and heavy fines can work as a deterrent. Crimes on photographing and recording of children in secret and subsequent publishing via social media fall under Article 16 of the Technology Crimes Act. Article 72, amended from article 56, of the Children’s Act addresses aspects of child’s exploitation. The media has a big role in disseminating the application of the law.
The motto ‘I Am a Child Oman’, for the 2016 campaign to create awareness about child abuse and educate parents and children on what to do in such situations is as relevant as ever.