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What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is any form of physical, emotional or sexual mistreatment or lack of care that leads to injury or harm to children/young people.

Abuse can happen to a child regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity.

Abusers can be male or female, adults or other young people and are usually known to and trusted by the child and family.

The abuser may be a family member, or they may be someone the child encounters in a residential setting or in the community, including during sports and leisure activities.

There are four main types of child abuse:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm.

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child.

Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is severe and persistent ill treatment which undermines a child’s confidence and self-worth.
Emotional abuse includes degrading punishment, sarcasm, threats and not giving love and attention. All of these can undermine a child or young person’s confidence and damage their emotional and psychological development.

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.

The activities may involve physical contact or non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse.

Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.


Neglect occurs when children’s or young people’s basic physical and/or psychological needs such as food, warmth, medical care, clothing and hygiene are not met.

Sometimes the neglect is deliberate, but often the person neglecting the child is not aware of the impact on the child/young persons wellbeing – both short and long term.

Neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
  • protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
  • ensure adequate supervision; or
  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

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