What is child abuse?

Children can be abused in a number of different ways. Usually these are categorized as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. A child may experience more than one type of abuse.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse of a child is that which results in actual or potential physical harm from an interaction, or lack of interaction, which is reasonably within the control of a parent or person in a position of responsibility, power or trust. There may be single or repeated incidents.

Physical abuse can involve:

  1. severe physical punishment;
  2. beating, slapping, hitting or kicking;
  3. pushing, shaking or throwing;
  4. pinching, biting, choking or hair-pulling;
  5. terrorising with threats;
  6. observing violence;
  7. use of excessive force in handling;
  8. deliberate poisoning;
  9. suffocation;
  10. fabricated/induced illness (see the HSE National Guidance publication for details);
  11. allowing or creating a substantial risk of significant harm to a child.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse is when a child is used by another person for their own or someone else’s gratification or sexual arousal. This may include physical contact or forcing a child to look at inappropriate material or behave in an inappropriate manner


Neglect can be defined in terms of an omission, where the child suffers significant harm or impairment of development by being deprived of food, clothing, warmth, hygiene, intellectual stimulation, supervision and safety, attachment to and affection from adults, and/or medical care.

Harm can be defined as the ill-treatment or the impairment of the health or development of a child. Whether it is significant is determined by the child’s health and development as compared to that which could reasonably be expected of a child of similar age.

The threshold of significant harm is reached when the child’s needs are neglected to the extent that his or her well-being and/or development are severely affected.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is usually found in the relationship between a parent/carer and a child. It happens when a child’s needs for affection, approval, consistency and security are not met. Examples include

  • Constant yelling, being critical and sarcastic.
  • Threatening, scaring a child, belittling them.
  • Exposing a child to domestic violence.
  • Not being emotionally available to the child.
  • Having unrealistic or inappropriate expectations of the child.



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