‘Child abuse or maltreatment of a child constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in real or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power’
Child abuse in the world today exists in a variety of forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect and child labour.
One of the earliest recorded instances of child abuse appears in the story of a poor boy named Sopāka in the Buddhist Jataka Tales.
In Sāvatthi, the capital of Kosala kingdom in India, a poor woman while in labour fell into a coma. Her kinsfolk carried her to the cemetery for cremation. A kind spirit loitering there created a windy storm and prevented the fire from burning the woman’s body.
After the people who brought the woman’s body for cremation ran away fearing the storm, the woman gave birth to a boy. The cemetery watchman took the mother and the child under his wings. They called the child Sopāka meaning the “waif” because he was born in the cemetery.
The watchman was very wicked and unkind. He considered the innocent little boy a burden and often beat and scolded him. When Sopāka was seven years old the watchman decided to get rid of the boy.
One evening Sopāka accompanied the watchman to the far end of the cemetery where there were many half-burned rotting corpses. The watchman tied Sopāka to one of the stinking cadavers and returned home leaving the crying boy to the mercy of the nocturnal preying animals.
When the watchman returned home Sopāka’s mother asked him: “Where is my son?”
“I don’t know,” the watchman replied. “He came home before me.”
The mother worrying about her son was awake whole night.
Around midnight the jackals came. Sopāka paralyzed with fear started wailing.
The Buddha, sensing Sopāka’s destiny for arahantship (“perfected one”), sent a ray of glory towards him that proclaimed: “Sopāka, don’t cry. Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”
At that moment, the boy got unbound and found himself standing before the Buddha at the Jetavana monastery. The Buddha bathed him, clothed him, gave him food, consoled and comforted him.
Early next day Sopāka’s mother went to the Buddha seeking help.
“Why are you crying, sister?” asked the Buddha.
“O Lord,” replied the mother, “I have only one son and since last night he is missing.”
“Don’t worry, sister. Your son is safe. Here he is,” the Buddha said and showed her Sopāka.
After listening to the Buddha’s teachings she and her son Sopāka became followers of the Buddha.
The Buddhist scriptures also tell the story of a boy named Mattakundali whose miserly father severely neglects him and deprives him of medical care. Although “Sopāka” and “Mattakundali” are based in ancient India, both stories still resonate today in our modern society irrespective of which country we live in..
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