Child Abuse And Neglect: Signs, Consequences, Effects, And Prevention

Child Abuse And Neglect

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Child abuse and neglect, also known as child maltreatment, refers to all types of physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, or other acts that have the potential to harm a child’s physical health, survival, development, and well-being (1).

Around four million cases of child abuse and neglect are reported every year. Children less than one-year-old suffer the highest rate of child abuse, while those under the age of three comprise 25% of child abuse victims (2).

Chronic child maltreatment may lead to adverse consequences, such as delayed brain development, psychological problems, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (3).

Read the post to learn more about the types, signs, consequences, risk factors, and prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Types Of Child Abuse And Neglect

Child neglect and abuse may be of different types but may give rise to the same negative emotions of insecurity, humiliation, loneliness, and fear (1) (4).

  1. Physical abuse: If a child is hurt or harmed physically, it may be physical abuse. Most abusive parents try to justify their actions as a means of disciplining their children. However, physical abuse is different from corporal punishment to discipline children.

In the case of physical abuse, children live in constant fear of displeasing their parents through their actions. As a result, physically abusive parents try to control their children with anger. A study suggests that one in 20 children has been physically abused at some point in their life (2).

  1. Emotional or psychological abuse: Most people do not realize the damaging effect of negative words on children. However, such words constitute emotional abuse and may result in psychological disorders and low self-esteem. Some behaviors that cause emotional abuse are listed below:
  • Refusing to accept a child’s worth and rejecting their needs
  • Addressing children with disrespectful words, such as “bad,” “worthless,” or “useless”
  • Inhibiting children from forming any social relationships
  • Creating an insecure environment through threat or oppression
  • Shaming or humiliating children through negative conversations and unfair comparisons
  • Overlooking children by giving them the silent treatment
  • Controlling children through yelling or screaming
  • Limiting physical affection towards children
  • Exposing children to violent behaviors between family members
  1. Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse refers to any sexual conduct that children do not understand or give consent to. When children are put into sexual situations, even ones that do not involve physical contact, it is sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse gives rise to different negative emotions in children. In most cases, children feel guilty and ashamed because they believe they are to blame for the situation. Mostly,  sexual abuse victims do not share their feelings for fear of the wrongdoer’s threats or being misjudged.

Studies indicate that one in five girls and one in 20 boys face sexual abuse before turning 18. Further, in 90% of the cases, children know the person who sexually abused them (2).

  1. Child neglect: Child neglect refers to situations where the basic needs of children are not met. It is the most common type of child abuse and can be further divided into (2) (4)
  • Physical neglect (not providing basic physical necessities, such as food, clothing, and shelter)
  • Emotional neglect (not providing love and affection)
  • Medical and educational neglect (not providing medical and educational facilities)
  • Supervisory neglect (not offering adequate care and supervision)

Child neglect can occur even when parents cannot care for their children due to illness, poverty, depression, or alcoholism.

Signs Of Child Abuse And Neglect

Sometimes, the signs of abuse and neglect in children are not obvious. It is also possible that abused children do not open up due to fear, shame, or guilt. Some of the signs of abuse that require attention are as follows (2) (4):

1. Signs of physical abuse

  • Physical injuries on infants who do not move
  • Frequent injuries, such as cuts, burns, or bruises, cannot be appropriately explained
  • Sudden weight gain in children or weight loss in infants
  • Fear of going home

2. Signs of emotional abuse

  • Extreme fear or anxiety about committing mistakes
  • Portrayal of extreme behavioral patterns such as excessive passiveness, aggression, or demandingness
  • Emotional detachment from parents or caregivers
  • Lack of self-confidence

3. Signs of sexual abuse

  • Difficulty in walking or sitting and genital pain, bleeding, or discharge
  • Sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy
  • Display of inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Trying to run away from home
  • Avoiding certain people without any obvious reason

4. Signs of neglect

  • Dirty and inappropriate attire
  • Display of bad hygiene, such as unwashed hair and bad body odor
  • Physical illnesses that have not received medical attention
  • Goes missing from school frequently

5. Other signs

  • Sudden decrease in self-confidence.
  • Sudden developments of abdominal pain or bedwetting habits.

Consequences Of Child Abuse And Neglect

If child abuse and neglect are not recognized and addressed at the right time, it may lead to the following consequences (2) (3) (5):

  • Difficulty in coping with stressful situations, learning new skills, and attaining success in life
  • Possibility of developing depressive disorders, suicidal tendencies, or aggressive behaviors
  • Increased possibility of developing alcohol and drug abuse habits when older
  • Difficulty in marital relationships as an adult
  • Lack of trust in relationships
  • Visualizations of the world as a dangerous and frightening place to live in
  • Susceptibility to lifelong health problems
  • Attention and memory issues

Risk Factors For Child Abuse And Neglect

Child abuse and neglect can occur in many families and societies; however, certain factors that may increase the risk of abuse in children are as follows (4) (5):

1. Parent and family risk factors

  • Parents suffering from low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety
  • Parents involved in substance abuse may be more aggressive because they cannot think clearly and logically
  • Parents who are unaware of good parenting skills or have experienced abuse in childhood
  • Parents going through stressful situations, such as illness or losing a family member
  • Parents who are not supportive, affectionate, and believe in disciplining children through harsh methods.
  • Single parents who are facing poverty
  • Families that indulge in domestic violence.

2. Child risk factors

  • Infants and young children requiring more care
  • Teenagers are more susceptible to sexual abuse
  • Children with chronic illnesses or disabilities who need constant support and care by parents or caregivers
  • Girls are at a higher risk of sexual abuse, maltreatment, and neglect than boys. Studies show that, globally, around 130 million children aged 6 to 11 do not attend school. Out of these children, 60% are girls (6).

4. Environmental risk factors

  • Children living in dangerous neighborhoods are at substantial risk of physical and sexual abuse.
  • Studies show that child abuse rates are higher in communities struggling with poverty and unemployment (6).

Ways To Prevent Child Abuse And Neglect

Some ways that can help prevent child abuse and neglect are given below (2) (3) (4) (6):

  1. Making policies that improve the economic condition of families
  1. Devising ways to reduce corporal punishments
  1. Encouraging parents to adopt better parenting techniques by reading books, attending seminars, or participating in parenting activities
  1. Introducing early childhood home visitation (visiting the homes of expectant parents or parents with children under five years to help them create a favorable environment for their children)
  1. Strengthening family relationships
  1. Teaching parents or caregivers to set realistic, age-appropriate expectations for children
  1. Opting for safer schools and neighborhoods
  1. Teaching the basic safety rules and self-defense techniques to children
  1. Paying attention to children’s conversations, activities, behaviors, and feelings towards their family members or environment
  1. Parent training programs to detect and report early signs of child abuse and neglect

Once you identify the child abuse case, contact the child protection agencies to support the victim, investigate their report, and decide on the next steps (6).

Child abuse and neglect is a major problem that can harm the future of society. Increased public awareness and prevention efforts can help deal with this issue effectively. In addition, parents should actively create a safe environment for their children and ensure they learn to defend themselves.


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Pragya Bhargavi

Pragya Bhargavi has been in the field of content research, writing and editing for over five years. Her passion for academics and science has enabled her to write creative as well as research-based articles. She has completed her Masters in Microbiology and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Education (B.Ed). As a writer at MomJunction, Pragya aims to bring about a... more