Child abuse can take place anywhere, both within families and within any religious or non-religious institution or school. Child abuse is when the behaviour of parent, carers or people working with children or other young persons significantly harms the child or is likely to do so. To help make sense of the different ways in which a child may be significantly harmed, the law recognises four types of abuse and these are set out below:


Physical abuse is the term used when a parent, carer of person working with a child causes injuries to a child and hurts the child physically. This may be hitting, beating, throwing, shaking, pinching, or by causing injuries through scalding, burning or poisoning. It can involve fabricating the symptoms of illness or deliberately causing illness in a child.


Emotional abuse is the term used when the main harm comes not from neglecting, physically hurting or sexually harming a child, but from persistent or severe emotional mistreatment. This may include repeated threats, verbal abuse, criticism, humiliation or ridicule (e.g. telling a child that he/she is worthless or useless. 


Sexual abuse is the exploitation of a child for sexual purposes. It includes not only direct sexual contact with a child but also exposing a child to sexual material or encouraging the child to behave in a sexually inappropriate way, whether or not the child is aware it is happening. Sexual abuse often starts with minor acts (e.g. inappropriate touching or the use of language of a sexual nature) and progresses to more serious acts over time, or by grooming (this is where a child is prepared for sexual abuse). 


Neglect is the term used when the parent, carer or person working with a child shows a persistent lack of proper care for children. Failure to provide a child with proper nourishment, warmth, medical care, education, a safe environment and housing are all examples of neglect. It can also be a failure to protect a child from danger or from significant harm caused by others. Adults who notice a child being abused and neither say nor do anything about it are neglecting the child. It is also when children are left without appropriate care or supervision, or are made to take on roles that are not age appropriate.