Inhuman shields — children caught in the crossfire of domestic violence

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South African Medical Journal

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University of Cape Town

Background. Child abuse is a worldwide scourge. One of its most devastating manifestations is non-accidental head injury (NAHI). Methods. This is a retrospective chart review of children presenting to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital trauma unit with a diagnosis of NAHI over a 3-year period. Results. Sixty-eight children were included in the study and 2 different groups were identified. Fifty-three per cent of the children were deliberately injured (median age 2 years), while 47% were allegedly not the intended target of the assailant (median age 9 months). The assailant was male in 65% of the intentional assaults and male in 100% of the unintentional assaults, with the intended adult victim female in 85% of the latter cases. Overall, 85% of the assaults were committed in the child’s own home. Conclusions. The high proportion of cases in which a young child was injured unintentionally suggests that these infants effectively become shields in assaults committed by adults. In this context any attempts to deal with child abuse must also address the concurrent intimate partner violence.