NEWS

Some 28,000 cases a year of ill-treatment and neglect

A study of 705 students in Greece found that one in 17 girls and one in seven boys had experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. In one-third of these cases, the perpetrator was a close relative and, in another third, it was a person close to the family (such as a friend or caregiver). In only one-third of cases was the person responsible not from the child’s immediate circle. As Nikolaidis noted, «in our day, they used to talk about the man offering sweets to children outside the house. In the majority of cases, that man is inside the house.» Other societies have come to the realization that the more publicity is given to the various forms of domestic violence, the better it can be brought to light and tackled. In Greece, however, that realization has not struck home. Typically, an excellent advertisement spot created by the Children’s Health Institute and state services, which was shown at the meeting to announce the opening of Eliza, has never been shown on television. Speaking out However, Nikolaidis argued, improvements will come when society as a whole becomes more aware that families must be informed and children must learn to speak freely on such issues. «It is of vital importance that children who have been subject to abuse do not feel guilty, but speak up about what has happened,» he said. «That can be achieved by courses that teach children, in ways appropriate to their age, that they have the right to bodily integrity that they should not allow anyone to violate; that the messages of sex and violence they get from television, the Internet and video games are not the norm.» There are other forms of maltreatment. Of the 28,000 children subject to abuse every year in Greece, 7,500 are under the age of 5. Ten percent of children who are examined by doctors for injuries have been abused. And 65 percent of Greek parents of children aged 6-12 beat their children, «to discipline them,» even though they themselves admit it is ineffective. Then there is verbal abuse, which adults use as an everyday means of communication with children. As the advertising spot points out, everyday expressions such as «shut up,» «I’ll give you a thrashing,» «stupid,» «useless,» and «idiot» are hurtful. The answer to such behavior is: «Yes to communication, no to verbal abuse. Yes to discipline, no to corporal punishment.» Recent studies on the neurophysiology of the brain have shown that serious abuse, exposure to violence, stress, emotional deprivation (from lack of a close maternal or other bond), and traumatic experiences in children under the age of 3 can slow down some parts of the brain, affecting thought, memory, emotional balance and behavior. In an earlier survey, the family relations department of the Children’s Health Institute studied 197 children aged 0-14 to who had suffered physical abuse or neglect, then followed them up 10 years later. Six percent of those children had died from their injuries, 8 percent had acquired a permanent disability, 12 percent presented antisocial behavior, 15 percent had experienced sexual abuse, 17 percent had suffered serious physical abuse, 20 percent had become the perpetrator of physical abuse in their families, turning on their tormentors, 22 percent had suffered moderate to serious neurological damage, 27 percent had moderate to serious mental retardation and 45 percent had moderate to serious mental health problems. Foster families However, say the experts, a lot of that damage is reversible if treated in time, though the imprint left by violence never completely disappears. Treatment should take place within an institution. The child needs to retain a stable connection with a family member in order to build a solid relationship. This can be done in open units or short-stay hostels under the close supervision of specialists. In serious cases, there is the solution of a foster family, an institution that has never taken off in Greece. «We spend billions on assisted reproduction when there are children who can’t find a home,» said Nikolaidis.