Tragedy within four walls

Artur Stelmasiak

Small, defenceless, completely trustful children, who were under the care of their relatives. They were physically abused. If they had been still alive they could have better lives and loving parents. If... However, for many it was too late to help.
Oskar was 4 years old. His short life can be seen as hell on earth. Those who should have loved him changed his life into hell. His closest family. You cannot image how much he was injured... that innocent four-year-old boy. Oskar paid the biggest price - he is dead. Many more children died. However, if we had noticed their sufferings they might have not passed away. Their stories had no happy-ends.
The hell of those children was placed in ‘the quiet homes’. The fathers, mothers and cohabitees who physically abused them let them pass away. There were also the neighbours, social workers and others who did not see and hear anything. Nobody reacted to children’s tragedies. And such tragedies can take place next door.

He could have been saved

Oskar’s mother and her cohabitee are known to be responsible for his death. They made him live in hell. But indirectly, the whole environment in which the four-year old boy lived can be blamed. His tragedy lasted for a few years. He lived in one of the blocks of flats in Piotrkow Trybunalski. He had neighbours and the local family help centre took care for Oskar’s ‘family’ for several months. And nobody saw anything. Recently violence against children has been widely publicised. The media more and more often inform about the cruel deeds parents are able to do to their children. Most of us think that such news is macabre. ‘But the news has a positive effect, too’, says Dr. Joanna Cielecka-Kuszyk, President of the Mederi Foundation, who has been fighting against children’s abuse for years. Institutional activities follow the tragic news that shocks the public opinion more and more. The social-informational action penetrates the common awareness. A good example is the campaign ‘Love. Do not hurt. Help’. Billboards, posters, fliers, web sites and helplines have been successful. Many people have overcome their fears and phoned the helpline, speaking about their anxieties. ‘I hope that there will be more campaigns’, says Ewa Sowinska, the Ombudsman for children’s rights. ‘I know that many people have been helped. Therefore, it was worthy helping even if only one child was saved’, said Sowinska during a scientific conference in the Child Health Centre.

All people should help

Anyone that knows about a committed crime should report this to the prosecutor’s or the police. The same applies to our suspicion concerning violence towards children. Because it is a crime.
However, the Polish law does not punish anyone that does not report crimes. So reporting the committed crime is our social and citizen’s duty. And thus it can be only evaluated from the moral aspect. But the matter is different if we follow the teaching of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that we commit a sin when we protect someone who does evil things. For example, when we know that our neighbour abuses his/her children we should report the crime to the proper services to prevent these evil deeds. Passive allowance of evil would be our personal sin. Therefore, if you witness a case of evident violence towards children you should report it to the police. Since only then the abused child can be protected. Our reaction should be different when we can witness some violence but we are not sure. Then we should share our doubts with the workers of a social care centre. They are legally obliged to make an environmental interview. And they are morally and legally responsible to examine the case.

Who should protect children?

Many children’s tragedies could be avoided if people were not socially indifferent and if the proper services functioned well. ‘After all, small children have no opportunities to ask other people for help. Therefore, the state institutions that have been created to react in such cases should reach the children from outside before the dramatic situations occur’, thinks Marcin Koczyk, a psychologist from the Social Care Centre in Warszawa-Wlochy. The whole environmental interview, which should control endangered families, should be based on the collaboration of doctors, social workers, municipal guards and policemen. Marcin Koczyk has conducted detailed research concerning the intervention of all those services when a case of family violence is suspected.
The results of the research are surprising. The people who suspected a case of violence were asked if they intervened to any extent. ‘Always’, was the answer of 60 % of policemen and municipal guards, 90 % of the pedagogical-psychological services, 100 % of the social workers and only 37 % of health services. Whereas the answer ‘we have never intervened’ gave as many as 50 % of the health service workers.

Doctor’s duty

The results of the research were surprised to the medical practitioners. Therefore, the Mederi Foundation began an information campaign in health services and published legal guides for doctors. The information action for the health services is especially important. It is the medical practitioners that have direct contacts with children during their regular visits. Additionally, among all services they are best prepared to evaluate children’s injury. They know perfectly well which injury is rare and accidental and which has been habitually repeated. They can see old and new scars. Besides, nobody else has the occasion to examine child’s body in such a careful way. The medical description and testimonies are the main evidence in the future judicial proceedings.
‘In the research conducted by Mr Koczyk the evaluation of our environment was bad,’ says Malgorzata Zbroszczyk-Szczepaniak, MD, the Head of the Paediatric Department, the hospital named after Prof. Bogdanowicz in Warsaw. According to her, there are many reasons for that alarming phenomenon: from the lack of proper information to the lack of the worked out procedures that would allow receiving children with a suspected abuse syndrome. ‘Then we have time to make complex examination and call proper services’, stresses Mrs Zbroszczyk-Szczepaniak. In her opinion, senior medical practitioners should carefully examine whether children have been physically abused. This practice has yielded fruit in her department. Thanks to the doctors’ scrupulous examinations in Prof. Bogdanowicz Hospital many children have been rescued from further suffering.

Abortion and violence

According to scientists dealing with the issue in question family violence is one of the biggest epidemics of our times making the psychological and physical health of the entire society worse. Children who are the most sensitive family members always experience the effects of violence in the most severe way.
The researches show that violence towards children is hereditary. 90 % of violence offenders were abused in their childhood. For some children violence began as early as in their prenatal periods when they should quietly develop in the mothers’ wombs. ‘The lack of reaction to pregnant women’s behaviour can endanger the health and life of the conceived children to a considerable extent. It could be connected with an ambiguous attitude of the public opinion to the anti-abortion law, and consequently to the issue from which moment a child can be regarded as a child’, thinks Wioletta Wojcik, a psychologist from the Silesian University. It is the earliest period of life in which children experience violence. The mothers who smoke, drink alcohol or take drugs in their pregnancy indirectly abuse their children. Medicine defines such behaviour as prenatal abuse.

It is not difficult to predict tragedies

Specialists in family violence turn our attention to the insufficient education of young parents. They cannot use other educational means than spanking, gripping hands or shaking. Some of them do not realise that the way from ‘an innocent’ spank to violence can be very short. 56 % of the female users of the portal ‘Emama’ favour spanking. And 75 % have admitted that they have hit their children. We should remember that the group of the internauts is not representative. Mothers who use the Internet often come from big cities, they are educated and well off. According to the specialists, parents should be alert to these things. Since influenced by their emotions they can lead to real tragedies. Baby’s brain is very delicate, not fully developed; the muscles of the neck cannot hold the head in the proper position. It is enough to shake or pull a child to damage its brain or even cause the child’s death. ‘We should change the methods of children’s upbringing. What was effective 20-30 years ago today must go out of date. One should not use corporal punishment. Parents should begin using other educational tools’, says Dr. Cielecka-Kuszyk. The first three years of life are most crucial in human development. ‘What a baby receives in this period will be its natural resource for its whole life. Its emotional and intellectual development depends on it. If a child receives a lot of good it has better chances to be a good human being’, thinks the President of the Mederi Foundation.
‘General family crisis is responsible for violence towards children. It is family that is the weak element, which enlarges the group, exposed to risk. An alarming phenomenon of the last years is the increase in sexual violence among children. I think that the contemporary world and the overwhelming pornography are responsible for that,’ says Joanna Cielecka-Kuszyk, MD, the President of the Mederi Foundation.

Where to look for help?

Helpline in the office of the Ombudsman for children’s rights
(0-22) 696-55-50
Help for Family Violence Victims ‘Blue Line’
(0-22) 668-70-00
Family Helpline in the Mederi Foundation
(0-22) 815-76-03

"Niedziela" 46/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: