Child abuse or child maltreatment is physical, sexual, or psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or other caregiver. Child abuse may include any act or failure to act by a parent or other caregiver that results in actual or potential harm to a child, and can occur in a child’s home, or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with.
The World Health Organization distinguishes four types of child maltreatment: physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional and psychological abuse; and neglect
Physical abuse is deliberately hurting a child causing injuries such as bruises, broken bones, burns or cuts.
Intentional use of physical force against the child that results in – or has a high likelihood of resulting in – harm for the child’s health, survival, development or dignity. This includes hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, strangling, scalding, burning, poisoning and suffocating. Much physical violence against children in the home is inflicted with the object of punishing.
Shaking or hitting babies can cause non-accidental head injuries (NAHI). Sometimes parents or carers will make up or cause the symptoms of illness in their child, perhaps giving them medicine they don’t need and making the child unwell – this is known as fabricated or induced illness.
A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent abuses a child for sexual stimulation.
Sometimes the child won’t understand that what’s happening to them is abuse. They may not even understand that it’s wrong. Or they may be afraid to speak out.
There are 2 different types of child sexual abuse. These are called contact abuse and non-contact abuse.
Contact abuse involves touching activities where an abuser makes physical contact with a child, including penetration.
Non-contact abuse involves non-touching activities, such as grooming, exploitation, persuading children to perform sexual acts over the internet and flashing.
Effects of child sexual abuse on the victim(s) include guilt and self-blame, flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, fear of things associated with the abuse (including objects, smells, places, doctor’s visits, etc.), self-esteem difficulties, sexual dysfunction, chronic pain, addiction, self-injury, suicidal ideation, somatic complaints, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, other mental illnesses including borderline personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder, propensity to re-victimization in adulthood, bulimia nervosa and physical injury to the child, among other problems. Children who are the victims are also at an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections due to their immature immune systems.
Child abuse can cause a range of emotional effects. Children who are constantly ignored, shamed, terrorized or humiliated suffer at least as much, if not more, than if they are physically assaulted.
Emotional abuse is the on-going emotional maltreatment of a child. It’s sometimes called psychological abuse and can seriously damage a child’s emotional health and development. Babies and young children can be affected differently by abuse than their older counterparts. Babies and pre-school children who are being emotionally abused or neglected may be overly affectionate towards strangers or people they haven’t known for very long.
Overall, emotional effects caused by child abuse and even witnessing abuse can result in long-term and short-term effects that ultimately affect a child’s upbringing and development.
Child neglect is defined as a type of maltreatment related to the failure to provide basic needs, adequate health care, supervision, clothing, nutrition, housing as well as their physical, emotional, social, educational and safety needs. Unlike physical and sexual abuse, neglect is usually typified by an on-going pattern of inadequate care and is readily observed by individuals in close contact with the child. Once children are in school, personnel often notice indicators of child neglect such as poor hygiene, poor weight gain, inadequate medical care, or frequent absences from school. Professionals have defined four types of neglect: physical, emotional, educational, and medical.
A number of neglected children present as suffering from medical conditions, failure to thrive or malnutrition, which in severe forms may be life-threatening. More observable signs include the following: dirty skin; offensive body odor; unwashed, uncombed hair; tattered, under or oversize and unclean clothing; clothing that is inappropriate to weather or situation; frequent lack of supervision.