Child abuse is when anyone under the age of 18 is either being harmed or not properly looked after. There are four main categories of child abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Find out more about each below, as well as the warning signs that a child may be being abused.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is when someone hurts a child or young person on purpose.

Examples of physical abuse are:

  • hitting, slapping, shaking or throwing
  • burning or scalding
  • drowning, suffocating or choking
  • pushing or kicking
  • inappropriate restraint or false imprisonment
  • disciplining a child using an implement such as a belt, stick or flex
  • misusing medication
  • fabricating or inducing an illness or ill health

Signs and symptoms of physical abuse in children can include:

  • unexplained recurrent injuries, marks or burns
  • covering injuries with clothing even in hot weather
  • fear of physical contact and shrinking back if touched

The above are just a few examples.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when a child is enticed or forced to take part in sexual activities. This kind of abuse does not always involve a high level of violence and the child may or may not be aware of what is happening.

Examples of sexual abuse are:

  • causing or inciting a child to watch or engage in sexual activities
  • encouraging a child to behave in sexually inappropriate ways
  • involving a child in looking at sexual images or videos
  • involving a child in the production of sexual images or videos
  • grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet)

Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse in children can include:

  • extreme reactions such as depression, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, running away, overdoses or anorexia
  • personality changes such as becoming insecure or clinging
  • being isolated or withdrawn
  • medical problems such as chronic itching, pain in the genitals or venereal diseases

The above are just a few examples. Another form of sexual abuse is child sexual exploitation.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse happens in many different ways.  It can affect how a young person or child feels about themselves, or how they fit in with friends, at school, or where they live.

Examples of emotional abuse are:

  • being made to feel inadequate, worthless or unloved
  • being unfairly blamed
  • being bullied, including over the internet (cyber-bullying)
  • being made to feel frightened or in danger
  • witnessing the abuse of others such as domestic abuse

Signs and symptoms of emotional abuse in children can include:

  • reduced physical, mental and emotional development
  • continual self-depreciation. eg 'I'm stupid’, ‘I’m ugly’, ‘I’m worthless’
  • inappropriate response to pain. eg 'I deserve this'
  • neurotic behaviour. eg Rocking, hair twisting or self-mutilation

The above are just a few examples.

Neglect

Neglect is when a child or young person’s basic needs are persistently not being met by their parent or guardian.

These basic needs include:

  • adequate food, clothing and shelter
  • protection from physical and emotional harm or danger
  • adequate supervision (including not being left at home alone)
  • access to appropriate medical care including dental treatment

Signs and symptoms of neglect in children can include:

  • constant hunger or tiredness
  • poor personal hygiene
  • poor condition and cleanliness of clothing
  • untreated medical problems
  • no social relationships

The above are just a few examples. 

If you suspect a child is suffering from abuse, even if you’re not sure, please tell someone. Find out the different ways you can get in touch on our How to report possible child abuse page.