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Recognising the signs of child abuse and neglect

Child abuse happens when a child's parent or other person in charge harms or neglects a child.

What are the types of child abuse?

In general, there are four major types of child abuse:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • neglect

What is physical child abuse?

Physical abuse could result from a parent or person in charge causing physical injury to a child, or failing to adequately supervise a child or from a pattern of neglect of the child. Here are some examples of physical abuse:

  • beating
  • slapping
  • hitting
  • pushing
  • throwing
  • shaking
  • burning

A child who is physically abused may:

  • have burns, bite marks, cuts, bruises, or welts in the shape of an object
  • not want to go home
  • be afraid of adults

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse happens when a parent or other person in charge sexually molests or uses a child for sexual purposes or knowingly fails to protect a child from sexual abuse. Here are some examples of sexual abuse:

  • any sexual act between an adult and a child, including intercourse
  • fondling
  • exposing a child to adult sexual activity
  • sexual exploitation through child prostitution or child pornography

A child who is sexually abused may:

  • have an inappropriate knowledge of sexual acts
  • be very compliant or extremely aggressive
  • be afraid of a certain person or a family member
  • have difficulty walking or sitting

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse occurs when a parent or other person in charge causes emotional harm or fails to protect a child from emotional harm that results from verbal abuse, mental abuse and psychological abuse.

Here are some examples of emotional abuse:

  • yelling at, screaming at, threatening, frightening, or bullying a child
  • humiliating the child, name-calling, making negative comparisons to others, or saying things like: "You're no good. You're worthless. You're bad. Having you was a mistake."
  • showing little to no physical affection (such as hugs) or words of affection (praise or saying "I love you.")
  • saying that everything is the child's fault.
  • withdrawing attention, giving the child the "cold shoulder"
  • confining a child in a closet or a dark room, or tying the child to a chair for long periods of time
  • allowing the child to be present during violent behavior of others, including the physical abuse of others

A child who is emotionally abused may:

  • show signs of serious anxiety, depression or withdrawal
  • show self-destructive or aggressive behaviour
  • show delays physical, emotional or mental development

What is neglect?

Neglect happens when a child's parent or other person in charge does not provide for a child's physical, developmental, emotional or psychological needs.

Here are some examples of neglect:

  • failing to provide:
    • proper food
    • clothing suitable for the weather
    • supervision
    • a home that is clean and safe
    • medical care, as needed
  • failing to provide emotional support, love and affection

A child who is neglected may:

  • not wear clothing that's suitable for the weather
  • be dirty or unbathed
  • be very hungry
  • not be properly supervised

Learn more

These are only some examples and signs of child abuse. You can find out more information by visiting the following websites: