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Behind Closed Doors

Isaak Jackson

Nothing is stronger than the bond between parent and child. It has long been a
commonplace ideology that the love shared between a mother or father and their
offspring, the life that they have spawned, is unconditional, providing a platform
for the next generation to be nurtured and encouraged into blossoming. But what
happens when this relationship breaks down? What happens when, behind closed
doors, the actions or inactions of a parent instead have detrimental and often
permanent effects on a childs health and wellbeing? In the ever evolving
environment of family life, the law must be consistently amended and enforced in
order to ensure the duty of care owed to every child is upheld at all times.

Its early March, 2012. Four-year-old Daniel has just died after suffering fatal head
injuries in a vicious assault. For months beforehand he was subject to unimaginable
acts of brutality and punishment at the hands of his mother and her partner,
including imprisonment, starvation and torture, all witnessed by his six-year-old
sister. His case is one of thousands, and in order to adequately provide the
protection necessary to prevent circumstances such as Daniels from reoccurring, it
is of paramount importance that law making bodies continuously reassess the
effectiveness of family law in society.

Perhaps the most fundamental principle relating to child abuse and the law is that
any adult willingly bringing a child into the world is therefore responsible for that
child and its upbringing. It is their inherent duty to nurture, provide for and protect
the child as it grows and develops. Several pieces of legislation exist, specifically
detailing these rights and responsibilities as a parental or guardian figure and
outlining courses of action in the event of a failure to meet these requirements as a
parent that results in a form of child abuse. The childs right to protection is always
paramount, with the child and family maintaining a right to participate in legal
decisions to varying degrees, as stated in the Child Protection Act 1999 (QLD.)

Abuse of a child can fall into several categories, with the three most common
categories being physical, verbal and emotional. This can either be a direct action
with the intent to cause harm to the child in question (i.e. striking the child in
question) or an inaction that subsequently deprives the child of necessities required
to maintain an adequate lifestyle.

Despite the existence of several pieces of legislation governing the application of law
in relation to cases of child mistreatment, the uniquely complicated nature of such
cases continue to give rise to several legal issues involved with responding to claims
of abuse. As is the case with most family law cases, but perhaps even more so when
a child becomes involved, there are several parties to the dispute, each with varying
dispositions and arguments.

The parents or guardians of the child, other family members, neighbours, health
professionals, therapists, social services, law enforcement, courts and of course the
child itself all hold power and influence as parties to any case of child abuse.
Authorities must attempt to balance the desires of the parental party in terms of
custody, whilst at all times maintain the best interest of the child. A prominent issue
involved in the resolution of such a dispute is the time taken to respond to claims of
abuse. As a direct result, several potentially serious cases are never followed up on
or simply overlooked.

Additionally, in regards to custody of the child after initial abuse has been detected,
it is essential in the sentencing and adjudication for the courts to remain entirely
objective and dispassionate, focusing on evidence and facts rather than emotional
obligations towards certain parties to the dispute. It has become far to
commonplace for judges to place preference on mothers, allowing the motherly
love ideal cloud their judgement and thus failing to act in the best interest of the

Child abuse is a community problem. No single agency has the training, manpower,
resources, or legal mandate to intervene effectively in child abuse cases. No one
agency has the sole responsibility for dealing with abused children.
When a child is physically beaten or sexually abused, the ideal set of events is that
doctors treat the injuries, therapists counsel the child, social services works with the
family, police arrest the offender, and attorneys prosecute the case.