What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse happens when an adult, or child, causes significant harm to a child or young person. It can happen even if the action, or non-action, is not deliberate.

There are four main categories of abuse.

Physical Abuse:

is deliberately hurting a child or young person, causing injuries such as bruises, broken bones, burns or cuts. Physical abuse is not accidental. It could be by shaking the child, throwing things at the child, hitting them or kicking them or by burning or suffocation. Physical abuse can also occur by poisoning or by fabricated or induced illnesses. Shaking or hitting babies is also physical abuse and can cause non-accidental injuries.

Sexual Abuse:

can occur when a child or young person is forced or encouraged to take place in sexual activities. There are two different types of sexual abuse (1) contact and (2) non contact. Contact abuse involves physical contact with the child, by sexually touching the child, making the child touch someone’s else genitals, or to masturbate, rape or penetration. Non contact abuse involves non-touching such as on-line abuse, showing pornography to a child, sexually exploiting a child for money, goods or power, encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts.

Emotional Abuse:

is on-going and over time can severely damage a child or young person’s emotional development and self-esteem. It can occur when an adult deliberately tries to humiliate, scare or verbal abuse them, or when an adult denies the child the love, care, and empathy they need in order to be happy and healthy.


is defined as the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical, emotional and/or phycological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect can involve a parent or carer failing to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter, failing to provide supervision, failing to protect the child from physical/emotional harm or damage, or providing medical care and treatment. It can also include the absence of a relationship of care between the parent/carer of the child and the failure of the parent/carer to prioritise the needs of their child.

There are many other forms of abuse and further information is available from the NSPCC Child Abuse and Neglect.

NSPCC Types of Abuse