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What is Child Abuse?

It’s not always easy to know if you or someone you know is being abused.

Child abuse is any action by another person that causes significant harm to a child. Child abuse can  mean a lot of different things such as neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

An abused child will often experience more than one type of abuse. Often child abuse will happen over a period of time, rather than being a one-off event.

The important thing to remember is that no-one, whether an adult or another child, has the right to hurt you or make you do anything that feels wrong.

The different types of abuse can be described as:

Emotional Abuse

Child abuse is more than bruises or broken bones. While physical abuse is shocking due to the scars it leaves, not all child abuse is as obvious. Emotional abuse is when someone tries to make  you feel bad. This can be saying things on purpose to scare you, put you down, humiliate or hurt you.


Child neglect—a very common type of child abuse—is a pattern of failing to provide for your basic needs. If the people who are supposed to look after you don’t give you the important things you need (adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision) or make it hard for you to take care of yourself, then that’s neglect.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone – boys or girls. It can be if you’re being touched in a way you don’t like, being forced to have sex, being forced to look at sexual pictures or videos, being forced to watch someone do something sexual or being made to do something sexual to someone that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you are being sexually abused it’s not your fault and you’re not alone.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is when someone deliberately hurts or injures you. Hitting, kicking, beating with objects, throwing and shaking are all physical abuse, and can cause pain, cuts, bruising, broken bones and sometimes even death. No one has the right to hurt you in this way.

What should I do?

You should talk to someone, for example an adult who you trust and you know will try to help you. Who you talk to will depend on the adult who is causing you concern.

You may find it difficult to tell someone about how you feel. Perhaps you will feel embarrassed or worried about what might happen. Although it might be difficult, it is important that you talk to someone. If the person you speak to does not take you seriously, speak to someone else.

You can talk to:

  • your parent or carer
  • a relative
  • a neighbour or friend
  • a professional such as a teacher, school nurse, youth worker, health visitor, social worker, police officer or children’s counsellor

What happens next

Whoever you speak to should listen and decide the best way to help. The person you speak to cannot always keep what you say private, as they will probably need to share what you have said with someone else who has more experience of keeping children safe. It may take time to involve the necessary people and to decide the best action to take. You should be involved in any decisions as much as possible and told what will happen next.

Talk to someone

If you think you or a friend are being hurt or abused, you should talk to an adult you trust or call Childline on 0800 1111.