Types of abuse

Somebody may abuse or neglect a child or young person by inflicting harm, or by knowingly not preventing harm. Children may be abused in a family, an institutional setting, or more rarely by a stranger. Listed below are further details on the types of abuse that can take place.

Physical abuse

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

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy may also constitute physical abuse, where a parent or carer feigns the symptoms of, or deliberately causes ill health in a child.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill treatment of a child, such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development.

It may involve indicating to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person.

It may involve causing children to frequently feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of ill treatment 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, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.

The activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative or non-penetrative acts. They may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at pornographic material or watching sexual activities, or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.


Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development.

It may involve a parent or carer failing to provide adequate food, shelter or clothing, failing to protect a child from physical harm or danger, or the failure to ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment. It may also include neglect of a child’s basic emotional needs.

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