Unit 1. The Context for Children
Unit 2: Understanding child abuse
Unit 3: Understanding child safeguarding
Unit 4: Safeguarding concerns and abuse

2.2: What is child abuse?

Child abuse

It is important to understand what we mean by the term ‘child abuse.’ Knowing what constitutes abuse helps us to identify concerns and to take action. Trying to define child abuse as a world phenomenon is difficult because of the vast cultural, religious, social /political, legal and economic differences that children experience.

What may seem to be abusive in one country may be acceptable in another. In order that child safeguarding approaches make sense, it is crucial that a common understanding is reached by organisations as to what the definition of child abuse is and in what circumstances their policy and procedures apply.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined some aspects of child abuse as ‘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.’ But we need to understand what these mean in the context of our own country.

Any definition of child abuse and neglect assumes a definition of the child. According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a child is every human being below the age of 18 years. However, some countries state that children reach adulthood younger than 18 years old.

Many children living throughout the world can, therefore, easily be described as being abused in a very general sense because they are denied basic human rights and live in circumstances that are extremely difficult. However, any definition of abuse needs to be carefully thought through as no child safeguarding policy can address all abuse of children and would be ineffective if it were used in this way.

The aims of this lesson are: to ensure that there is a shared understanding of what the term child abuse means, to give a brief description of different types of child abuse and to identify the main types of abuse in participants’ local areas. We are going to begin by identifying what behaviours towards children constitute abuse in the local context.


Definitions of abuse and harm from Keeping Children Safe ‘Understanding Child Safeguarding – A Facilitators’ Guide
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) – Simplified version from Keeping Children Safe ‘Understanding Child Safeguarding – A Facilitators’ Guide

Read more:

World Health Organisation – Violence against children review
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

Lesson Content
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