Pressure from rising costs can escalate violence against children

PETALING JAYA: Experts are ringing alarm bells that child abuse cases are bound to escalate and a contributing factor is mounting pressure on families in trying to deal with the high cost of living.

The Malaysian Mental Health Association says the increased frustration of urban living, work pressure, monetary issues, loss of the cushioning effect of the extended family, could all lead to the mounting anger sensed these days.

“This anger often leads to aggression which could be displaced towards loved ones,” said its deputy president, Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj Chandrasekaran.

The consultant psychiatrist added: “The rising cost of living and high expectations of urban living often see both parents working.

“The nuclear family system is the norm with extended families, a thing of the past.

“This also means greater frustrations experienced by both parents who are working especially with increasing cost of living and living beyond one’s means, leading to financial ruin.”

Dr Andrew was commenting on reports in The Star of a girl who had chilli rubbed on her mouth and genitals and another who died after she was kicked and thrown to the floor.

He had been informed that a greater number of child abuse cases were brought to public hospitals for medical evaluation in recent years.

Dr Andrew said families should live within their means and parents should be role models in being prudent with money.

“There is no need to buy a 10-year-old a smartphone with Internet access just to keep up with the neighbours or to keep the child quiet,” he added.

He said teachers, too, must be taught to be vigilant to detect cases of child abuse.

At the same time, punitive measures must be increased against parents not only for child abuse but also for neglect of their children, Dr Andrew said.

Past president of the Asean Federation for Psychiatry and Mental Health Prof Dr Mohamad Hussain Habil said that marriage breakdowns or financial problems could trigger the abusive side of a person.

He said the perpetrators of child abuse were likely to have been victims themselves, and suffered from some form of mental illness or personality disorder.

“It just needs a precipitating factor (like a marriage breakdown or a financial problem) to put these individuals (who have been victims) at risk of being abusers,” he added.

Dr Mohamad Hussain lamented that some people chose to ignore cases of child abuse.

“Sometimes grandparents, aunts or uncles know what is going on but instead of helping the child, they just turn away and allow the abuse to continue.

“Help often reaches the child at a later stage when bones have been broken.

“When this happens, you find yourself asking what is wrong with society?” he asked.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak Associate Professor Dr Andrew Aeria believed that the “stress of industrial living” would raise the number of child abuse cases.

He said the Government should see that mental stress was a serious health issue.

“The fact that the abuse happened is a mental health issue,” he added.

Dr Aeria, who specialises in social sciences, was certain that the rising cost of living would push up stress levels and pressure of modern life.

He suggested that more counselling centres be set up in the city, and introduced in neighbourhoods even, where people on the brink of distress could receive the help they need.

Dr Lai Fong Hwa, a psychiatrist at the Penang General Hospital, said rising living costs could be a factor setting off aggression in an individual if he or she were unable to cope with the burden.

He, however, added that people who succumbed to pressure in this way were likely to have behavioural problems or personality disorders in the first place.

“It can happen to anyone. It all depends on that individual and whether or not he or she is prepared to make the necessary lifestyle changes to cope with the rising cost of living,” Dr Lai said.

“In times like this, you need to take a step back and reset your priorities.

“Always bear in mind that your family comes first, and not material wealth.”

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