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Understanding What Makes Kids

Vulnerable to Being Sexually

Children are by nature vulnerable to those
more powerful than they are.
Sexual abuse does not occur because of a particular quality in the child, but
solely because of traits or decisions made on the part of the person abusing.
Yet, if we can understand why some children may be more likely to be
vulnerable to sexual abuse we can take steps early on to provide extra
protection for those children. Although the child is never the reason for the
abuse, there are factors that lower a childs defenses against abuse and
make them less able to protect themselves or get the help they could need.

Risk factors
The factors below can increase risk for abuse and are not necessarily
considered to be causes of child sexual abuse; sexual abuse can occur
without any of these factors present. These traits are not predictors or
indicators of sexual abuse, but rather aspects of a childs life that can make
them more vulnerable. When several of the factors below are true, a child
may be less able to see a sexual violation as unacceptable, less able to find
the resources to get protection, or perhaps even more willing to tolerate the
sexual interaction in exchange for whatever it is they might be offered
protection, love, privileges, treats, friendship or money,

Risk factors in a childs environment or household

Settings where secrecy is frequently permitted or encouraged

Significant stress in family (death, current divorce, or job loss)

Children being viewed or talked about in adult sexual terms

Exposure and/or easy access to adult pornography, X-rated media, or

child pornography

Witnessing situations where sex is exchanged for money, drugs,

privileges or protection

Instances of unacknowledged child sexual abuse in family history

Alcohol abuse/misuse or illegal drug use in the home

Domestic violence in the home

Repeated exposure to other forms of violence

Settings where there is little or no physical, emotional or sexual privacy

Risk factors in a childs relationships

Weak or absent ongoing connection to a trusted safe adult

Child sees him/herself as not deserving protection or respect

Child feels emotionally isolated or neglected

Little or no accurate information available about what constitutes

healthy touching or safe sexual feelings/behaviors

Developmental challenge or disability in the child or other family


Child is expected to fill the emotional or intimate needs of adults

Child is a victim of physical or emotional abuse

All children due to their age are considered to be at risk for exploitation, abuse, violence and neglect.
But vulnerability cannot be defined simply by age. Though age is one component, Vulnerability is

also measured by the child's capability for self-protection. The question that arises is, are children
capable of protecting themselves. Can children provide for their basic needs, defend against a
dangerous situation or even recognise a dangerous situation is developing? These questions call for
a redefinition of the concept of self-protection. A child's vulnerability comes from various factors that
hinder a child's ability to function and grow normally. Hence self-protection is more about the ability
of the child to lead a healthy life within a child protection system; the ability to protect themselves or
get help from people who can provide protection. The term vulnerable
children refer to an age group that is considered at risk. But vulnerability of
children is further compounded by the following factors:

Age within age: Younger children, especially those below

the age of six, are much more dependent on the protection

Physical disabilities

Mental disabilities

Provocative behaviours: due to ignorance or misunderstanding of children's

mental health or behavioural problems, some people can become irritated or
frustrated and hence lash out against children or neglect them completely.

Powerlessness: comes of the situations and people that surround the children. If
a child is given the power by the state, family or community to participate and fulfil
their own rights and responsibilities they are less vulnerable.

Defencelessness: comes from the lack of protection provided by the state or

parents or community. If there is no child abuse law than how is a child suppose to
defend himself/herself against abuse.

Passivity: due to situation or treatment of the child. For example a child who is
enslaved or oppressed does not have the ability to seek help or protection.


Invisible: Children who the system doesn't even recognise are highly

The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) like the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000defines
vulnerability in two categories: children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with

Children in need of care and protection is defined as a child who :

Doesn't have a home or shelter and no means to obtain such an abode

Resides with a person(s) who has threatened to harm them and is likely to carry
out that threat, harmed other children and hence is likely to kill, abuse or neglect
the child.

Is mentally or physically handicapped, or has an illness, terminal or incurable

disease and has no one to provide and care for him/her.

Has a parent or guardian deemed unfit or unable to take care of the child.

Is an orphan, has no family to take care of him/her, or is a runaway or missing

child whose parents cannot be located after a reasonable search period.

Is being or is likely to be sexual, mentally, emotionally or physically abused,

tortured or exploited.

Is being trafficked or abusing drug substances.

Is being abused for unthinkable gains or illegal activities.

Is a victim of arm conflict, civil unrest or a natural disaster

Children in conflict with law are juveniles who have allegedly committed a crime under theIndian
Penal Code. The ICPS also recognises a third category of children; Child in contact with law. These
children are victims of or witnesses to crimes. ICPS lastly outlines that vulnerable children groups
also include but are not limited to the following: "children of potentially vulnerable families and
families at risk, children of socially excluded groups like migrant families, families living in extreme
poverty, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes, families subjected to or
affected by discrimination, minorities, children infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS, orphans, child
drug abusers, children of substance abusers, child beggars, trafficked or sexually exploited children,
children of prisoners, and street and working children."
UNICEF views vulnerable children as those who are abused, exploited, and neglected. Child
protection is derived out of the duty to respond to the needs of vulnerable groups of
children. UNICEF outlines the following groups as vulnerable: Children subjected to violence,
Children in the midst of armed conflict, Children associated with armed groups, Children affected by
HIV/AIDS, Children without birth registration, Children engaged in labour, Child engaged in marriage,
Children in Conflict with the Law, Children without Parental Care, Children used for commercial
sexual exploitation, Female children subjected to genital mutilation / cutting, and Trafficked children.

Each of these groups and other protection issues is discussed in the next section:Children's Issues