I’m writing this blog to highlight an issue that I think doesn’t get as much attention as it requires.
Child abuse: it is a type of abuse when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm, or risk of serious harm to a child.
When we hear the term “Child Abuse,” many of us envision a child who has been physically abused and has various bruises all over their body. Well, of course, that indeed is child abuse; but there isn’t only one type of child abuse.
While abuse against children seems to be committed by a non-family member, it is an exception rather than a rule. Children are more likely to be harmed or put in harmful situations by a family member or someone close to them in their community. [1]

Now let’s look at the four general types of Child Abuse:
1. Physical abuse
2. Emotional abuse
3. Sexual abuse
4. Neglect

Let’s look further into the signs of these types of abuse to better understand and identify child abuse.

I. Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the non-accidental injury of a child by a parent or caregiver, either deliberately or by omission.
It is inclusive of all levels, from bruises to death. It may also include children who are overzealously punished for misbehaviour on a single occasion.

Physical abuse can have both physical and psychological effects on a child.
Every time a caregiver physically abuses the child, the potential exists for physical injury (e.g. broken bone and other serious injuries) and psychological injury (e.g. “You’re worthless, I can destroy you”). [2]

Although Physical discipline is not considered physical abuse in some places (as it highly depends on what is acceptable by the culture and the government), much research has shown that physical discipline might lead to abuse. [3]

In some places – like India – physical discipline is used to punish and grow a sense of responsibility among children.
But do you believe that it is making the children more disciplined or responsible?
Well, according to The Resolution on Physical Discipline of Children by Parents, which is based on numerous credible pieces of research, physical punishment does not work to change a child’s behaviour and can eventually result in emotional, behavioural, and academic issues. [4]

II. Psychological/Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver consistently disregards the emotional well-being of their children. It involves a repeated pattern of disapproval, excessive discipline, resentment, criticism, scorn, and contempt in the interactions among family members.
It can occur among parents, siblings, and other family members. Sometimes we’re immune to seeing parents overly criticizing their children, or siblings, constantly putting down each other, and we start to think this type of behaviour is harmless.

This does not only has immediate effects, but also some long-term effects.
According to a research paper ‘Family function and dysfunction’ by Stephen Ludwig and Anthony Rostain:
“In emotionally abusive families, children who tend to internalize their feelings may present with generalized anxiety, clinginess, phobias, perfectionism, depression, and intense feelings of shame. And children who externalize their feelings may show more aggression, hyperactivity, irresponsibility, etc.
Many express a sense of being unloved and unwanted. Some even feel guilty for burdening their families with having to care for them. Children who are raised in emotionally abusive families tend to have chronic feelings of diminished self-worth and persistent problems with intimate personal relationships.”

III. Sexual Abuse

When a child is engaged in sexually explicit conduct by an adult or another child who is in a relationship of responsibility, trust, or power by age or development.
Sgroi (1984) has suggested that the term sexual misuse replaces sexual abuse. This term more accurately reflects the misuse of the power of the perpetrator. The perpetrator is usually known to the child and has legitimate access to him or her. [5]

The impact of child sexual abuse has not been fully documented, but there are some short-term and long-term impacts that it might leave on a child. According to research, some of the impacts of sexual abuse on a child can be, excessive fears or feelings about sexuality and sexual behaviour, feeling different from their peers, feeling powerless, and a sense of betrayal.[2] They are not constant but are seen in many victims of sexual abuse.

In some extreme cases, it has a huge impact on the mental health of a child, and in many cases referral to mental health workers is necessary. To avoid intrafamily sexual abuse, the family must know how to maintain sexual boundaries between the generation.

IV. Neglect

Neglect occurs when a parent or caregiver fails to give the child the attention their child needs for development: both emotionally and physically. In many families where parents can’t pay attention to their child but other family members, such as grandparents can respond adequately to a child’s need, the lack of attentiveness gets balanced.

Different types of neglect are:

Emotional neglect- When a child’s affectional needs are consistently disregarded, ignored, invalidated, or unappreciated by his/her caregiver is considered emotional neglect. Emotional neglect has devastating consequences on children, including low self-esteem, hyperactivity, aggression, depression, etc. They are at risk for emotional problems throughout the rest of their lives. Emotional neglect can also be hard to recognize.

Physical neglect- This includes unsanitary living conditions, unstable living arrangements, abandonment, and exposure to drugs and alcohol. If a parent or caregiver is doing their best to provide their children with enough resources, it’ll not be considered physical neglect.

Medical neglect- This includes inadequate or delayed health care, inadequate nutrition, and inadequate mental health care. Medical neglect can cause many acute to chronic illnesses (physical or mental) in a child.

Educational neglect- Inattention to a child’s educational needs or failing to attend to a child’s special education needs may be viewed as educational neglect. This also includes not providing their girl child with equal educational needs as their boy child.


Child abuse is a global social problem and it is more common than we think it is. Many parents or caregivers who abused their children have been the victims of abuse themselves; they also lack the knowledge of the emotional and developmental needs of their children.
We should recognize the risk factors for these types of abuse to avoid them. If a child has been a victim of abuse, we should provide the child with protective factors and seek treatment and support.

If we’re aware of what child abuse is, recognizing its signs will keep us away from making these types of mistakes and most importantly we can also use our voices against it.
We can help fight child abuse by simply discussing these issues with our friends and families; we’re raising awareness of a problem that many people overlook or ignore. It’ll make a huge impact because each of us affects far more people than we tend to realize.

[1] M.J. Lawler, E.B. Talbot: Child Abuse, in Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Second Edition), 2012
[2] Stephen Ludwig, Anthony Rostain, Family Functions and Dysfunctions, in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (Fourth Edition), January 2006
[3] Eve Glicksman: Physical discipline is harmful and ineffective, May 2019
[4] Sgroi S (ed): Handbook of Clinical Intervention in Child Sexual Abuse.
Lexington, KY, Lexington Books, 1984
[5] Finkelhor D, Browne A: The traumatic impact of child sexual abuse.
Am J Orthopsychiatry, 1985