An abused child may experience many forms of mistreatment in any one incident or over time; for example, emotional harm is a pervading factor in all types of abuse. The abuser may be a family member, a stranger, another child, or someone responsible for a child's well-being, such as a teacher or caretaker.
Children in every society are vulnerable to abuse, gender based violence, and exploitation, however children without parental care and those in high risk environments such as conflict areas, refugee camps, on the street, or in institutions, are particularly exposed to violence, denial of their basic human rights, and deprivation. All abuse has its origins in power imbalance and therefore is typically associated with fear, secrecy, and control. This makes identifying and speaking out about abuse very difficult for children, family members, the community and social services, particularly when it is committed within the privacy of the home.
Child abuse can cause physical and psychosocial problems, including HIV/AIDS infection, and is particularly damaging when repeated over a period of time. Children may manifest abuse via destructive or withdrawn behaviours, developmental delays, injuries or other health problems. The effects of abuse will vary from child to child and depend on the source, type and extent of the abuse, the child’s developmental stage and their disposition or resilience.
The process of identifying and responding to abuse requires skilled interventions in order to prevent further harm to the child, and will typically include police, medical, psychological, and social services in order to address the safety, physical, and emotional needs of the affected children. Any care plan must be in the best interests of the child and protect them and their siblings from harm. This will include consideration of the additional risks of abuse that are present for children in institutions and care placements. Such closed environments are extremely susceptible to abuse since they are frequently isolated, insufficiently regulated, and lacking in adequate supervision and safe reporting procedures. It is the role of social services to screen and monitor all child placements, including institutional, kinship, and foster care, to ensure the child’s safety and well-being.
It is the responsibility of the whole community to protect its children. Education and community awareness for children and adults on the risks, signs of abuse, and responses is vital for children without parental care and those in high risk situations, such as during a conflict or displacement when sexual violence, exploitation, and recruitment into armed forces are prevalent.
The literature in this section describes the types of abuse in more detail, including gender based violence, and provides example child protection procedures, policy papers, and other intervention tools.