Abuse of children is not entirely a modern phenomenon but the definition and classification of abusive practices has changed. Modern concepts of child abuse date only from the 1880s in France. Child abuse in twentieth-century terms of emotional and physical assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual molestation was not considered a crime during most of the past century. Prior to the 1880s, only two acts, abortion and infanticide, constituted crimes against children. Child abandonment, rather than a crime, was the state supported, societally acceptable alternative to abortion and infanticide. After abandonment, malnourishment and neglect of these children, even to the point of death, likewise were not crimes. With changes in attitudes of the 1880s, parental neglect, assault, and starvation of children became defined as child abuse as did perceived immoral behavior of the parents such as habitual drunkenness and debauchery. Under these new definitions of abuse, state officials could deprive parents of their legal rights and make the children wards of the state for their own protection. The state became in loco parentis. This essay explores the changing perceptions of child abuse, and the increasing state intervention for the care of abused children after the 1880s.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology