Check what kinds of behaviour are child abuse

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There is no clear legal definition of ‘child abuse’ but there are laws to protect children from harm. 

Someone harms a child if they:

  • treat them badly

  • make them ill

  • stop them from growing and developing properly

Local councils and other organisations that come into contact with children have a legal duty to protect them if they’re under 18 and suffering, or are likely to suffer, significant harm.

Here are some examples of things which would cause harm and where a child would need protection.


Neglect is the ongoing failure to meet a child's basic physical or emotional needs. Someone might neglect a child on purpose, or they might not realise they're doing it. 

Someone might be neglecting a child they're responsible for if they:

  • don’t provide adequate food, clothing and shelter for them- fail to protect them from physical and emotional harm or danger - this includes during pregnancy

  • don’t supervise them properly

  • don’t allow them access to appropriate medical care or treatment

If you’re worried that you might be neglecting your child because you don’t have enough money to live on, you might be able to get help from your local council or the government.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is when someone deliberately hurts or harms a child, or makes them ill. Examples of physical abuse include hitting or shaking a child.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is treatment which causes serious damage to a child's emotional development.

Examples of emotional abuse include when someone:

  • constantly or unfairly punishes a child

  • doesn’t show a child they’re responsible for any affection

  • tells a child that they’re worthless

  • doesn’t give a child opportunities to express their views

  • prevents a child from taking part in normal social activities

  • lets a child see or hear the abuse of someone else

  • bullies a child, causing them to feel frightened or in danger - this includes online bullying

Sexual abuse

This is where a child is made to take part in sexual activities, whether or not they know what’s happening and whether or not there is a threat of violence. 

Sexual abuse of a child might involve:

  • physical contact, for example, sexual touching or sexual assault

  • non-contact activities, such as showing children pornographic images or grooming a child online, in preparation for abuse 

  • using young people in prostitution - it's always child sexual abuse to involve someone under 18 in prostitution

If you’re worried about someone who has contact with a child you can ask the police to check if they have a record of sexual offences.

You can find out about how to get a police check on someone that has contact with a child on GOV.UK.

Domestic abuse

If a child sees or hears domestic violence or abuse between the adults in their home, this could be child abuse. 

You can find out more about domestic abuse, including how to find somewhere else to stay and how to get legal protection.

Next steps

You can find out more about how to identify child abuse on the NSPCC website.

If you think someone is abusing a child, you can find out how to report child abuse.

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Adolygwyd y dudalen ar 01 Gorffennaf 2021