Child Abuse (Part 1)


To Abuse means to harm!

It is imperative to note that Section 21 of the Child Rights Act (2003) of Nigeria considers a child as a person below the age of 18 years.

We can say child abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risks of serious harm to a child. It is the non-accidental behaviour meted on a child by a parent or caregiver outside norms of conduct causing harm to that child. Child Abuse is that act done to deter a child’s development.

There are various types of child abuse but I have been able to group them into four main categories:

  1. Physical Abuse
  2. Sexual Abuse
  3. Psychological Abuse
  4. Neglect

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse occurs when a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering, non-accidental physical trauma or injury. It is deliberately hurting a child. A child who is abused physically does not always have visible marks. Physical abuse includes but is not limited to:

  • Hitting
  • Shaking
  • Throwing
  • Burning
  • Biting
  • Poisoning
  • Drowning
  • Suffocating
  • Corporal Punishment
  • Fabricating the symptoms of or deliberately inducing illness.

Physical Abuse also involves Domestic Abuse, Online Abuse, Female Genital Mutilation, and Child Trafficking.

There isn’t one sign or symptom to look out for that will say a child is definitely being physically abused, but when there is a consistent pattern of injuries, investigations should be carried out.

A physically abused child may often have:

  • Bruises
  • Burns
  • Bite marks
  • Fractures

The child may become:

  • Withdrawn
  • Depressed
  • Aggressive
  • Clingy
  • Obsessive

And may start to:

  • Suddenly behave differently
  • Have eating disorders
  • Wet the bed
  • Have problems sleeping
  • Soil clothes
  • Take risks
  • Miss school
  • Take drugs/alcohol
  • Self-harm

For babies:

  • Seizures
  • Respiratory problems
  • Unusual responses


Physically abused children may still have the effects even after injuries have healed. These effects include:

  • Poor physical or mental health
  • Depressive, anxiety, eating and childhood behavioural disorders
  • Suicide attempts
  • Infections
  • Poor performance at school
  • Criminal and risk-taking behaviour
  • Addictions

What to Do

  • Control expressions of panic or shock.
  • Tell the child that you believe him or her, a disbelieving reaction to a disclosure may be of further harm to the child.
  • Acknowledge that it is hard to talk about such things.
  • Make it clear that whatever happened is not the child’s fault and that the child is not bad.
  • Reassure the child that they did the right thing by telling you (many abusers overtly or covertly threaten or manipulate the child to prevent disclosure).
  • Tell the child that you know that sometimes adults do the wrong thing and that what has happened to them has also happened to others.
  • Tell the child that you will do your best to support them.
  • Avoid pressing for details beyond those which the child freely wants to tell you, as your role is to listen to the child and not to conduct an investigation.
  • Tell the child what you will do next. Do not make promises that you will not be able to keep, nor promise the child confidentiality. You will not be helping the child if you make promises you cannot keep.

If you are a mandated professional you are required by law to notify Physical Child Abuse though we all have a role to play in reporting incidences of physical child abuse to ensure that the children are safe.

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