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1.1    Definition and concepts

Child abuse
can be defined as ‘anything that hinders the optimal development of the child’.1 This includes physical abuse (non-accidental
injury emotional abuse and deprivation, and child sexual abuse. Someone may abuse or neglect a child by
inflicting damage, or by not acting to prevent injury. Children can be abused
in a family or in an institutional or community setting, by acquaintances or by
a stranger or an adult or adults, or another child or children.  

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Children Act 1989 define harm as ‘ill-treatment or impairment of health or
development including, impairment suffered from seeing the ill-treatment of
another’.2  Section
120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 defined child abuse as “…impairment
suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another “.3

The HM
Government white paper, Working Together (2015)4 further defines child abuse as different types
of harms, that includes: physical abuse, emotional, sexual and neglect.


The World
Health Organisation (1999) compared definitions of abuse from 58 countries and
drafted the following definition:

abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional
ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or
other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s
health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of
responsibility, trust or power.”5.  The
World Health Organisation (1999) definition of child abuse therefore refers to
acts causing harm to children health or any aspect of their development
(physical, emotional or social) ‘, but also the failure to provide appropriate
and supportive development environment in that the child can develop the full
range of emotional and social competencies commensurate with their personal


In summary,
child abuse or neglect is a physical or mental injury to a non-accidental
character; sexual exploitation or abuse; or negligent treatment or abuse of a
child caused or authorized by a person responsible for his or her well-being,
in circumstances allowing the health or well-being of the child to harm or potential
risk to abuse.


1.2    Types of Child Abuse

The UK government has guidance “Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006)” provides
definitions of what constitutes child abuse as follows:6



Physical abuse may involve hitting,
shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, or scalding, choking, suffocating, or
otherwise causing physical harm to the child or not protecting a child from
harm. Physical abuse can also be caused when a parent or child-carer causes a
child’s illness intentionally.7



Neglect is the most common type of child
abuse and is the inability to meet the basic physical and/or psychological
needs of children, which can lead to a serious deterioration in the child’s
health or development. Neglect may be a parent or guardian who does not provide
adequate food and clothing; including the exclusion of home or does not protect
the child from physical and mental risks. Inability to ensure proper
monitoring, including insufficient maintenance of the child; or failure to
provide access to adequate medical care.8



Sexual abuse involves forcing or tempting a
child or young person to engage in sexual activities, including prostitution,
regardless of whether the child is aware of what is happening. Activities may
involve physical contact including penetrating or non-penetrating acts such as
kissing, touching or stroking the child’s genitals or breast, vaginal or oral
intercourse, or verbal sex.9



Emotional abuse is a persistent emotional
attack causing serious and persistent negative effects on the child’s emotional
development. It may be related to telling children that they are useless or
not, inadequate or only valued to the extent that they satisfy the needs of
another person.10



Bullying may be defined as deliberately
hurtful behaviour, usually repeated over time, and where it is difficult for
those bullied to defend themselves. Bullying takes many forms but the three
most common are physics (hitting and kicking), verbal (homophobic remarks, name
calls, threats) and emotional (isolating an individual from social activities).
The damage inflicted by bullying can often be underestimated. It can cause
considerable suffering to children, to the extent that it affects their health
and development or, to the extreme, causes them significant harm (including

1 Speight N (1989:29–32). Child
abuse—a paediatrician’s view. Family Law.

S.31(9), Children Act 1989.

Section 120, Adoption and Children Act 2002

4  HM Government (2015), Working together to
safeguard children. A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote
the welfare of children. HMSO, London.

World Health Organization (1999), Consultation on
Child Abuse Prevention, Geneva, Switzerland.

6 HM Government (2006, pp 37-38), “Working Together to
Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote
the welfare of children”, TSO (The Stationery Office), London.

7  Ibid



10  Ibid.

11 Ibid.  

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