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Children's Services

What is child abuse?

Child abuse falls into one or more of four categories:  physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child.

It may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates symptoms of, or induces illness in a child.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent effects on the child’s emotional development, and may involve:

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in most types of ill treatment of children, though emotional abuse may occur alone.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, including prostitution, whether or not s/he is aware of what is happening.

Activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative and non-penetrative acts. ‘Penetrative acts’ include ‘rape’ (forced penetration of vagina, anus or mouth with a penis) and ‘assault by penetration’ (sexual penetration of vagina or anus of a child with a part of the body or an object).

Sexual activities may also include non-contact activities, e.g. involving a child in looking at / production of abusive images, watching sexual activities or encouraging her/him to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.  It may include use of photos, pictures, cartoons, literature or sound recordings via internet, books, magazines, audio cassettes, tapes or CDs.

Children under sixteen years of age cannot lawfully consent to sexual intercourse, although in practice may be involved in sexual contact to which, as individuals, they have agreed. A child of under thirteen is considered in law incapable of providing consent.


Neglect involves the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health and development.

Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance misuse.  Once the child is born, neglect may involve failure to:

More information on neglect


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