Child Sexual Abuse — How Big Is the Problem?

Jan 5, 2018 · 4 min read

The idea of harming or hurting a child is abhorrent to most people. Yet, the problem of child abuse persists globally.

A recent spate of allegations of child abuse including molestation and physical abuse at the hands of kindergarten teachers in Beijing has led to a massive outcry as parents in China fear for the safety and well-being of their children.

As witnessed most recently in China, shock and disbelief are the first public reactions to the uncovering of large cases of child abuse. But the reality is that a large proportion of children worldwide do face sexual abuse. Research shows that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. In the UK, 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused. Complicating matters for parents and educators is the fact that children are most vulnerable to sexual assault between the ages of 3 and 8. Further, in a third of child sexual abuse cases the perpetrator is another child or young person.

Child abuse is a complex problem and finding adequate solutions are further complicated by the sensitive nature of the issue as well as the young ages at which children are vulnerable. Governments across the world have enacted laws to protect the rights of children and punish child abusers. These include specifying a legal age of consent and severe punishment for perpetrators. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has become the most ratified human rights treaty with over 196 countries becoming state parties to the Convention.

Why does the problem of child sexual abuse persist even after strong legal deterrents? And do each of us have a role to play to stop child abuse?

Parents and educators worry about bringing up child safety especially with young children. How do you teach a child to be safe from sexual abuse without broaching the topic of sex? How early is too early to start these conversations? What words are acceptable and what are not while talking about child safety? These are just some of the common questions parents and educators face. But do these worries have consequences?

1 in 3 children who are abused by an adult did not tell anyone about the abuse. It is even harder to learn that 1 in 3 adults would not believe a child if they disclosed sexual abuse, despite the fact that in 98% of reported cases the child’s statements were found to be true.

How do we change this? What tools do we use to fight this problem?

The most important tool to fight child abuse is to open the channels of communication. Teaching young children about their body and child safety has the following benefits:

  1. Children learn they have control over their own bodies

2. Children learn that no one has access to their private parts without their consent

3. Children learn that they cannot touch another child’s private parts

4. Open conversation removes shame and encourages them to talk to the parents, guardians or teachers

5. Confidence about talking to a trusting adult about these topics leads to healthier relationships as they grow older

Several tools exist to facilitate open communication. Among these are the videos by How To Tell Your Child.

Using the How To Tell Your Child videos on child safety is a two-step process. First you can watch the video on child safety for adults. This shows you how you can create a community of adults around you who are educated on child safety.

Second, you can show the child safety video for children to either your children or to other children in your care. This will teach them the ‘5 Alerts’ system that will help them understand how they can exert control over their bodies. You can answer any questions they may have. It’s important to be honest and encouraging while answering their questions. Any sign of hesitation on your part may discourage them from asking questions in the future and may lead them to looking for information from less reliable sources.

Child safety takes a large community to ensure. It takes work on the part of everyone in your extended social circles. But with a combined effort we can work towards a world where child abuse is left in the past, and where children are safe and fulfilled.

For more child safety tools and other useful content visit


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