Child Abuse and Neglect

By “The Social Worker”


Child abuse is any purposeful action or failure to act, that results in the physical, mental or emotional injury of a child. Child abuse is more than physical scars and broken bones. It includes emotional abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, abandonment and exploitation. While physical abuse is shocking due to its visibility, not all child abuse is obvious. Regardless of the type of abuse, the result is serious unacceptable damage done to a child. Children need to be protected, they need stability, structure, clear boundaries and the knowledge that their parents and the adults around them are looking out for their safety. Abused children cannot predict how parents and adults will act. Their world is an unpredictable and frightening place with no rules or safety. They do not know whether the abuse is a slap, a degrading emotional comment or stormy silence. Likewise they do not know if there will be food on the table, clothes or education available to them. The end result is that the child feels unsafe, uncared for, isolated and unloved.




–          This includes physical harm or injury to a child. It can be the result of a deliberate attempt to hurt the child as a result of severe discipline, such as using a belt on a child, or a physical punishment that is inappropriate to the child’s age or physical condition.

Signs of physical abuse in children.

–          Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises.

–          A very tense or anxious child.

–          A child who shies away from touch and flinches at sudden movements or seems afraid to go home.

–          A child that wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries.


Emotional abuse can severely damage a child’s mental health and social development, leaving lifelong psychological scars. Examples include:

–          Constantly belittling, shaming and humiliating a child.

–          Making negative comparisons to others.

–          Telling a child that he or she  is “no good”,  “worthless “, “bad”, stupid, a mistake or just like somebody you negatively associate with.

–          Frequent yelling, threatening or bullying.

–          Ignoring or rejecting a child.

–          Limited physical contact with a child. No hugs. Kisses or any physical affection

–          Exposing a child to abusive behaviour, like the abuse of a parent, sibling or even a pet.


Sexual abuse is the most difficult form of abuse to deal with because of its layers of guilt and shame. It is important to recognise that sexual abuse does not always involve bodily contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive. While media reports of sexual predators are frightening, what is  scarier is that sexual abuse usually occurs at the hands of someone the child knows and trusts. Both boys and girls suffer from sexual abuse. Aside from the physical damage that sexual abuse can cause, the emotional component is profound. The shame of sexual abuse makes it very difficult for families to come forward or lay charges against the perpetrator. The child and caregiver may feel that others will not believe them or they feel responsible for the abuse.

Sexually abused children are tormented by shame and guilt. This can lead to self-loathing and sexual problems as they grow older. If a child confides in you about the abuse, take him or her seriously. “Do not turn a blind eye”.

Warning signs of sexual abuse could include:

– A child’s unwillingness to change his clothing or over-dressing.

– Inappropriate sexual knowledge and seductive behaviour.

–          Poor peer relations.

–          Learning difficulties and deterioration of school work.

–          Delinquency, runaway or truancy.

–          Attempted suicide.

–          Withdrawal, fantasy or infantile behaviour.


This includes failing to provide for the child’s “basic needs”, like adequate food, clothing, hygiene, security, education, medical attention or an environment conducive to the development of the child. Sometimes, a parent might become physically or mentally unable to care for a child due to serious injury, depression or anxiety. In other cases the parent may be using alcohol or drugs that could seriously impair their judgement and ability to protect and care for the child. Neglected children do not get their physical and emotional needs met and are in need of help and care.



  1. Domestic violence.
  2. Alcohol and drug use.
  3. Untreated mental illness.
  4. Inadequate or lack of parental skill.
  5. Stress and lack of support.
  6. Unemployment and financial stress.
  7. A sickly child.
  8. Poor impulse control on the part of parents.
  9. Poor bonding between parents and the child.



Remember,  you can make a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child, especially if you can take steps to stop the abuse at an early stage. The best thing you can do is to provide calm reassurance, understanding and support. Provide help and be actively involved in helping the child. Whatever you do, do not turn a blind eye or hope that somebody else will help.


If you suspect that a child is being abused, it is crucial to get the help he or she needs. Do not feel that “I do not want to interfere in someone else’s family life or what if I break up someone’s home”. Remember the child’s safety should always be prioritised.


Places that you could contact for help

  1. Any Department of social Development in your area

National-(012) 312 7500

JHB (011) 374 1600

  1. Any Child Welfare Organisation in your area

Child Welfare Society- (011) 452-4110

  1. Any Police Station in your area- 10111
  2. Johannesburg Parent and Child Counselling Centre – (011) 484 1734
  3. Child Line (011) 645 2000
  4. JHB Institute for Social Development ( Jiss )- (011) 837 4151/2

You may also like

Leave a Reply