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Safe Kids > What is Child Abuse?

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is against the law.

Child abuse happens when a child is hurt intentionally, or when a parent or caregiver fails to protect a child in their care. It includes physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and neglect.

While parents are legally allowed to use “reasonable force” with their children, we encourage them to use other methods to modify their children’s behaviour. The definition of reasonable force can depend on the situation. However, any form of physical discipline that requires medical attention or results in bruising, welts or broken skin, is not considered reasonable discipline.

Read our fact sheets on how to discipline without using physical force — and how to encourage good behaviour.

Abuse takes many forms.

  • Physical abuse is the use of physical force or action (usually by a parent or caregiver) that results, or could result, in injury to a child. It can include punching, slapping, beating, shaking, burning, biting or throwing a child. It can be done by hand, belt, stick or other object. Signs and indicators of abuse may include bruises, welts, cuts, fractures, burns or internal injuries.
  • Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used for sexual purposes by an adult or an older child, whether or not the child is said to have consented. According to the Child and Family Services Act, sexual abuse is any sexual exploitation of a child by someone having charge of the child—parent or caregiver.
  • Emotional abuse is behaviour on the part of a parent or caregiver that does not support a child’s emotional development and sense of self worth. It can make a child feel unwanted, unloved, useless and unworthy. Emotional abuse can include placing unreasonable demands on a child, and may involve a pattern of criticizing, teasing, insulting, rejecting, ignoring or isolating a child. Parents who do not provide their child with love, emotional support and guidance can also be considered emotionally abusive.
  • Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, sleep, supervision, medical attention, dental care, education and safety from harm. Most parents and caregivers do not intend to neglect their children. It can occur when parents don’t know about appropriate care for children, are having extreme financial or other difficulties and need assistance.

Other factors also affect children’s healthy development.

  • Domestic violence can have consequences for children even when they don’t see it or hear it directly. Even infants can sense a stressed home environment and be affected by it. Every child responds his or her own way, but common effects of exposure to domestic violence include.
    Read what the RCMP has to say about the effects of domestic violence on children here.
  • Parents or caregivers with substance abuse or untreated mental health problems may cause harm to children if their problems interfere with their ability to care for a child or keep him/her safe.