Battling a hidden epidemic of child abuse

Sexual abuse of children is rife in Greece. One grim instance involved an infant just 7 days old, according to Eleni Agathonos-Georgopoulou, the former director of the Children’s Health Institute. She was addressing a meeting held last Tuesday to announce the establishment of Eliza, an association formed to combat child abuse. Agathonos-Georgopoulou heads the Eliza hostel for children aged up to 5 years old and their families, which will go into operation in September. Although the statistics are alarming and more research is being conducted, they are not being translated into policies on the ground. As Giorgos Nikolaidis, the current director of the Children’s Health Institute, told Kathimerini, Health Ministry funds for welfare services traditionally do not exceed 1 percent of the total budget. «Unfortunately,» he said, «no multinational firm has taken an interest. If they had, welfare would get a better deal. It would not have to rely on non-governmental organizations, philanthropy and volunteers.» An estimated 28,000 children are subject to abuse and neglect in Greece every year. Two-thirds of that number are of preschool age, and one-third of those preschoolers are less than a year old. Apart from a total lack of preventive measures and the shortcomings of existing services, it seems that the greatest resistance to action comes from within society and its institutions. The Children’s Health Institute is still awaiting permission from the Pedagogical Institute to ask pupils’ parents if they want their children to participate in a survey on the subject. The issue of domestic violence continues to be one of the great taboos in Greek society.

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