We have witnessed these situations in the streets or in our own neighborhood. This phenomenon has been —for different reasons— invisible and silenced: child abuse.
Unlike other countries in the world, such manifestation has a different approach in our country. Nonetheless, there is a scientific approach that goes hand in hand with a multidisciplinary care.
Aiming at raising awareness on the subject, CubaSi talked to Grisell Crespo Carro, children psychiatrist and expert in the community work of CENESEX (National Center for Sex Education), who has spent more than twenty years studying and preventing such phenomenon.
Why is child abuse a silenced and hidden phenomenon?
Among other things, it is believed parents have all the right on their children. They believe their descendants are owned by them and therefore, they strongly think they “can do whatever they want with them.”
Thus, they associate abuse with educative methods used in order to discipline children for a greater good, but all end in breaking children’s rights and even hurting physically or emotionally them.
How do you see the phenomenon in Cuba?
I do not think it has increased. I do believe you see it more because people are more sensible to violence. When I began studying the subject, talking about women violence or child abuse was almost a disgrace. Cuban society did not accept this sort of phenomenon because it was fair and people’s rights have been always respected.
However, child abuse has existed since biblical times. There have been even sacrifices made by parents as a way to celebrate God. It happened in other cultures. Girls’ clitoris is mutilated in Africa.
It always existed in Cuba. But we did not talk about it. In the last twenty years, violence against women has also shed some lights on child abuse in the family context. We have also seen bullying cases and, particularly, homophobia.
What to do?
We began conducting investigations years ago. As we did not have general statistics, then we carried out researches in the communities in order to have a more scientific vision on the subject.
In my consulting room of child psychiatry in a Havana’s medical center, I began researching the impact of patients coming for a certain issue (i.e. attention deficit disorder and other psychiatric illness) and afterwards, I realized they were victims of child abuse.
From that point on, we started to develop a community working strategy targeted at raising awareness in adult population, fathers, mothers, teachers, social workers, and we started with our own workers in the health sector (physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists) as these professionals did not know how to proceed before a child abuse case. It does not happen nowadays. Training courses are given and the Ministry of Public Health in Cuba has created diploma courses on the subject.
From our perspective, the main cause of child abuse is that parents do not know other healthier educative methods and guidelines for a better upbringing.
Every time we work along with parents, we understand they actually know what child abuse is. They are able to name it and set examples on the subject. However, they yelled their children because they do not know how to do the homework “you are good for nothing” or “you are the dumbest of all my children”. There is a sort of child abuse named psychological violence.
Can you mention some of these guidelines?
It is very important to respect the space of children so that they can learn how to create and reveal themselves. And thus, they can foster their own independence. Adults cannot be involved directly, though they can monitor what they do.
Of all these guidelines, I would say limits are the most important. It is about the rules we set to delimit the roles of each member of the family, “this is what a three years old boy can do or this is what I should do as a mother.” For instance, playing in the park is not the same with five or sixteen years old. And limits must be clear. When it does not occur, children become disobedient and therefore, they are punished and abused.
What would you advice to families?
The most important thing is to get to know our children better. We should give our children the place they deserve so they can boost their development; namely, knowing their rights or even their sexuality. If we have these elements into account, we are going to be better parents.
Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Diaz // CubaSi Translation Staff