Child Abuse

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Most of us dismiss child abuse as stories we see on the news on the T.V. set, the Internet, in newspapers, or learn about through other media sources. Child abuse is not that. It is happening next door, down the street, and within our own community. And it’s time the problem is taken seriously.


Why should I be aware of this?

Child abuse wouldn't be such a problem if people acknowledged it instead of living in a world where they believe that it doesn't exist. Many people think child abuse either does not exist or exists only among poor households and in movies. This is because there is a fine line between punishing a child and child abuse. When grown ups hit children with knives, wood, glass, cups, high heels, it hurts. But it goes beyond that for some children, the abuse reaches beyond physical pain when the adult uses verbal abuse.

Even a few month old infants are not spared. Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse caused by someone, in most cases by a parent or a care giver, vigorously shaking an infant or small child.

Child Abuse in our troubled world is reaching epidemic proportions.

How does this affect me?

Child abuse is an uncomfortable issue most of us don't want to deal with. We hear the screams of a child at night and believe that the child is only throwing tantrums. We take bruises on a child as some kind of health problem and leave it to their parents to solve. We see a child, skinny and sickly, who never plays with other children and pay no attention to him. If we see a child in dirty clothes we blame the parents for not taking adequate care of him

Even parents, don't want to deal with it. It can't happen to our kids, they say. But it does. Children are under threat of abuse wherever they go -- to the school, the playground,in the own bedrooms and on the internet. The only way forward is --

  • To become conscious that abuse happens.
  • To empower children to recognise the warning signs of abuse.
  • To understand and learn how to create a truly safe environment for children.
  • To create an open environment in which children are able to tell parents or caregivers that they are being abused.
  • To understand how best to deal with abuse if it has already happened.

All about child abuse

See also

Child Abuse refers to the harm, or risk of harm, that a child or youth may experience while in the care of a person they trust or depend on, including a parent, sibling, other relative, teacher, caregiver or guardian. Harm may occur through direct actions by the person (acts of commission) or through the person’s neglect to provide a component of care necessary for healthy child growth and development (acts of omission).

To make this simpler, child abuse is of two forms neglect and abuse.While abuse is more active in the way it is inflicted, it is abuse when something is actually done to harm the child. In the case of neglect, harm comes to the child because something is not done which should have been. Thus sexual molestation of a child is abusive whereas depriving a child of adequate food and exercise is neglectful. One similarity between abuse and neglect is that both if carried far enough, can be fatal.

Kinds of Child Abuse

There are five types of child abuse:

  1. physical abuse
  2. sexual abuse
  3. neglect
  4. emotional harm
  5. exposure to family violence

Examples of Abusive Behaviours

Category Definition Examples of Abusive Behaviours
Physical abuse (assault) The application of unreasonable force by an adult or youth to any part of a child’s body Harsh physical discipline, forceful shaking, pushing,grabbing, throwing, hitting with a hand, punching, kicking, biting, hitting with an object, choking,

strangling, stabbing, burning, shooting, poisoning and the excessive use of restraints

Sexual abuse Involvement of a child, by an adult or youth, in an act of sexual gratification, or exposure of a child to sexual contact, activity or behaviour Penetration, attempted penetration, oral sex, fondling, sex talk, voyeurism and sexual exploitation
Neglect Failure by a parent or caregiver to provide the physical or psychological necessities of life to a child Failure to supervise, leading to physical harm or to sexual harm; permitting criminal behaviour; physical neglect; medical neglect; failure to provide

psychological treatment; abandonment; and educational neglect

Emotional harm Adult behaviour that harms a child psychologically, emotionally or spiritually Hostile or unreasonable and abusive treatment,frequent or extreme verbal abuse (that may include threatening and demeaning or insulting behaviours), causing non-organic failure to thrive*, emotional neglect, and direct exposure to violence between adults other than primary caregivers
Exposure to family violence Circumstances that allow a child to be aware of violence occurring between a caregiver and his/her partner or between other family members Allowing a child to see, hear or otherwise be exposed to signs of the violence (e.g., to see bruises or physical injuries on the caregiver or to overhear violent episodes)

Tell-tale Signs of Child Abuse

  • Withdrawing – A normal child becoming a loner, or withdrawing from social contacts is one of the first signs of abuse. As a first sign she may stop talking to adults, then to friends. The child may also stop caring about her personal appearance. Overall it will be a behavior which is totally different from the ones you know.
  • Injuries they cannot explain – When children have unexplained injuries. When they wear long sleeves and pants, are limping or avoiding touch. A single instance can be dismissed as injury. But there is probably something wrong if this happens repeatedly.
  • Unexplained Gifts – When your child frequently brings home gifts and can’t explain them. It is wise to find out if someone with questionable reputation is giving them these gifts.

Showing signs of neglect – Is the child unconcerned about what he wears? Does he or she appear dirty, unkempt, unfed? Chances are such children aare often abused physically, emotionally or financially.

  • Tiredness or sleeping in class – A child frequently becoming tired or falling asleep in class or in the playground, etc. is a sign that he is being abused and fears sleeping at home.
  • Reluctance to visit specific places - If your child doesn't want to go to specific people’s houses, or refuses to spend the night alone with Dad, there may be an issue. Don't force it, but try to find out the causes as gently as possible.
  • Sudden Emotional Changes - If there is a sudden change in the child’s behavior from happiness to fear, anger or anxiety, don’t rule out the possibility of abuse. If you are unable to get to the root of this consult a therapist.

Child sex abuse

Though there is no universal definition of child sex abuse, it characteristically refers to a dominant position of an adult that puts him or her in a position to coerce a child into a sexual act. Child sex abuse goes beyond physical abuse to include other forms such as exposure, voyeurism, and child pornography.

Emotional abuse

A child is said to be emotionally abused when she is suffering under any of the following conditions:

  • Inadequate physical care
  • Absence of medical attention
  • Inadequate medical care.
  • Cruel or abusive treatment
  • Improper supervision
  • Exploitation of the child's earning capacity
  • Unlawfully keeping the child out of school
  • Exposing the child to criminal or immoral influences that endanger her/his morals.

It is estimated that 90% of the time, parents are responsible for committing child abuse, including emotional abuse and neglect. Fathers and mothers are nearly equally responsible for committing emotional child abuse and neglect. Of course, caretakers and other family members can also commit emotional child abuse and neglect.

Child neglect

Child neglect involves parents or caregivers failing to provide the child with basic needs to such an extent that the child’s physical and/or psychological well-being are damaged or endangered. Neglect can be classified into three types:

Physical Neglect

  • Failure to provide adequate food, clothing, or hygiene
  • Not paying attention to child’s safety, both at home and outside, such as drunk driving with kids in the car, leaving a baby unattended etc
  • Indifference or refusal to provide children the necessary health care
  • Abandoning children without providing for their care or driving them out of home without arranging for their care

Educational Neglect

  • Not enrolling a child in school
  • Permitting or creating reasons whereby a child misses too many days of school
  • Not paying attention to a child’s special educational needs

Emotional Neglect

  • Inadequate nurturing or display of affection
  • Permitting or turning a blind eye to spousal abuse
  • Permitting a child to drink alcohol or use recreational drugs
  • Failure to intervene and prevent a child's antisocial behavior
  • Refusal of or delay in providing necessary psychological care

Effects of child abuse

Children who have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused not only suffer a wide range of effects from their victimization, but are at greater risk to be abused again.

Even those who seem to be handling their abuse are concerned that:

  • it might happen again
  • they did something wrong
  • future relationships might be abusive

Emotional Effects of Child Abuse

Just as all types of child abuse have an emotional component, all affect the emotions of the victims. These effects include

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Aggressive behavior/anger issues
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Alienation and withdrawal
  • Personality disorders
  • Clinginess, neediness
  • Flashbacks and nightmares

Many adults who were abused as children find it difficult to trust other people, endure physical closeness, and establish intimate relationships.

Behavioral Effects of Child Abuse

Child abuse can play itself out not only in how its victims feel but in what they do years later. Children who suffer abuse have much greater chances of being arrested later as juveniles and as adults. Significant percentages of inmates in U.S. prisons were abused as children. One of every three abused or neglected children will grow up to become an abusive parent.

Other behavioral effects include

  • Problems in school and work
  • Prostitution
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Suicide attempts
  • Criminal or antisocial behavior
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Spousal abuse

What can I do

Reducing the incidence of child abuse is usually a matter of education and intervention — and we can all help with both.

  • Education

In terms of education, you can support organizations and programs that work with the public to encourage and teach good parenting skills and provide help for parents at risk of abusing their children. Such programs include-
- hotlines
- parent education programs
- emergency shelters
- in-home services
- family resource centres
- parent support groups
- mental health services

You can also teach your children how to deal with bullies and how to identify, fend off, and report attempts at sexual abuse. And you can learn how to monitor your children’s Internet use for signs of potential sexual abuse.

  • Intervention

In addition to reporting suspected child abuse when you learn about it, you can intervene effectively if you encounter a parent or caregiver abusing or about to abuse a child by striking the child or screaming at the child: it’s a matter of offering on-the-spot help rather than scolding or threatening to call authorities. If you yourself are overwhelmed by childcare responsibilities, frustrated by a baby who won’t stop crying, or in danger of harming your children, you can reach out for help. Pick up the phone and call someone who can help, even if it’s someone — like the voice at the end of a hotline — you don’t know.

International Conventions and Declarations

Three important International Instruments for the protection of Child Rights are:

  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, is the widely accepted UN instrument ratified by most of the developed as well as developing countries, including India. The Convention prescribes standards to be adhered to by all State parties in securing the best interest of the child and outlines the fundamental rights of children, including the right to be protected from economic exploitation and harmful work, from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse and from physical or mental violence, as well as ensuring that children will not be separated from their families against their will.
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is also applicable to girls under 18 years of age. Article 16.2 of the Convention lays special emphasis on the prevention of child marriages and states that the betrothal and marriage of a child shall have no legal effect and that legislative action shall be taken by States to specify a minimum age for marriage.
  • SAARC Convention on Prevention and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution emphasizes that the evil of trafficking in women and children for the purpose of prostitution is incompatible with the dignity and honour of human beings and is a violation of basic human rights of women and children.

Online resources and further reading

  • Child Abuse
  • Debate on NDTV about Child abuse: Battling the stigma in Hindi


  • Bitter Chocolate, by Pinki Virani. A nonfiction book about incestual abuse in India which starts with the author's own experiences as a child.
  • Cereus Blooms at Night, by Shani Mootoo. The story of Mala Ramchandin, an old woman at a rest home, Tyler, her gay caretaker, her cruel father who sexually abused her, and her vanished mother.
  • Blasphemy, by Tehmina Durrani. A controversial novel from Pakistan. The pir (mullah) in the book lives a life of orgiastic debauchery, and the victims are the women of his household and the community.
  • An Obedient Father, by Akhil Sharma. Ram Karan is a 57-year-old corrupt bureaucrat in the Delhi school system, who repeatedly molests his daughter.
  • Family Violence from a Communication Perspective by Dudley D Cahn
  • The Lost Boy: A Foster Child's Search for the Love of a Family by Dave Pelzer
  • Controlling People : How To Recognize, Understand, and Deal With People Who Try To Control You (01 Edition) by Patricia Evans


Societies, Trusts, Help-lines

  • International Child Abuse Network
  • International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
  • The International Bureau for Children's Rights
  • Children's Rights Internaitonal
  • List of worldwide societies


  • End Abuse
  • Child Maltreatment in Canada
  • Child Abuse and Neglect: Types, Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Getting Help
  • Child Welfare Information Gateway
  • A review of the ethics in research on child abuse in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, July-Sept 2007(3)
  • South Asian women's organization on child abuse.
  • Child Abuse Statistics in the United States
  • Child Abuse Statistics
  • Child Survival: Anthropological Perspectives on the Treatment and Maltreatment of Children by Nancy Scheper-Hughes
  • Child labour: the most visible type of child abuse and neglect in India
  • Human Rights Watch, Prison Bound: The Denial of Juvenile Justice in Pakistan (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999).