ABSTRACT

Child abuse is legally defined as the abuse of a child under the age of 18 through physical or emotional injury, neglect or sexual abuse. More specifically, physical abuse involves the child being physically hurt either by such means as hitting or burning or the administration of poisonous substances or inappropriate drugs or alcohol. Evidence of physical injury without adequate explanation may be a sign of physical abuse. Emotional abuse involves the child consistently experiencing a lack of love and affection or being continually threatened. Signs such as sadness, excessive crying, apathy, aggression, lack of confidence and low self esteem may point to emotional abuse. Neglect arises where carers fail to provide the child with basic needs such as food and medical care, or when they simply leave the child alone. Neglected children may appear withdrawn or miserable, may be over-aggressive, or may have eating or nutritional problems or be dirty and smelly. Sexual abuse arises when adults exploit children to meet their own sexual needs. This includes sexual intercourse, fondling and exposing the child to pornographic material. Sexually abused children may become depressed and withdrawn, may be aggressive, or may have eating problems and relationships with adults which shut out others. They may exhibit sexual behaviour which is inappropriate for their age (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), 1989).