Latest figures out from SENAME, the national service for young people in Chile, show that child sexual abuse report levels reached more than three thousands cases between January and May of this year. The stats indicate an overall rise in sexual abuse, when compared to the same period of last year, that translates into a 22% increase. The chart below shows that most but not all regions have registered more cases, in particular in the capital Santiago and Valparaiso.

The service, SENAME, has published a guide for parents that outlines some of the warning signs to look for in children, both physical and emotional/psychological, that might indicate potential problems. Parents are expected to be more vigilant towards their children’s behaviour as this is likely to be one of the first indications that something may be wrong. Sadly, most abusers will be well known to the child and could be members of the family. The guide reminds the Chilean public that abusers can come in all shapes and sizes, from any background including those that are often respected in the community as in schools and religious communities. A common misconception that persists is that abusers will be readily distinguishable from non-abusers, for example, by having mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, or by having a physical disability or being addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Although it should be remembered that the majority of children are not subjected to abuse and privation, recent stats suggest that as much as 20% of young adults in the UK suffered severe maltreatment as children. Vigilance (without hysteria!) is the order of the day.

Here are some general statistics regarding child abuse worldwide:

  • Approximately 40 million children are subject to child abuse each year
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents around the world
  • One study revealed that about 30% of all severly disabled children relegated to special homes in Ukraine died before they reached 18 years of age.
  • UNICEF estimates that two million children died as a result of armed conflict during a recent 10 year period, and another 6 million were injured or disabled.
  • In Canada, US and Mexico, over 6.5 million children annually are exposed to unwanted sexual material over the internet; over 1.7 million of these report distress over exposure to these materials.
  • Each year, approx. 1 million more children around the world are introduced into commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Sexual abuse statistics vary between countries and reports, but are consistently alarming: one country’s research indicates that up 36% of girls and 29% of boys have suffered child sexual abuse; another study reveals up to 46% of girls and 20% of boys have experienced sexual coercion.

Back to the report from Chile, it is entirely possible that the increase in sexual abuse only really represents an incerase in reporting and not actual abuse per se. As awareness increases and more people are on the lookout for cases of crimes against children, so the discovery rate rises. If true, this will be of little comfort to Chileans or to the government. Clearly more work is needed, as I’m sure SENAME would agree by the way, in order to ensure all children are safeguarded as they grow up; this is their right. Chile is still very much a developing country and yet the economic development over recent years has been relatively rapid. With the creation of wealth comes responsibility. As with relative poverty, rights for women, students and workers, Chile needs to make sure that no one is left behind in the race towards ‘developed’ status.


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