Facts about Child Abuse

What is Child Abuse?

Generally, child abuse is categorized into neglect, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It is common for a child to suffer more than one form of abuse. For example, children who have been physically abused may also have been told that they are bad or stupid and that they deserve what they are getting, resulting in emotional consequences to the children.


This occurs when a parent or caregiver does not provide for the basic emotional and physical needs of the child on an ongoing basis. Neglect includes not providing proper:

  • food;
  • clothing;
  • housing;
  • supervision;
  • safe surroundings;
  • personal health care;
  • medical and emotional care; and/or
  • education

Children who are neglected physically and emotionally may not develop normally. The consequences of neglect can be very serious, particularly for young children, with some children suffering permanent damage. Physical abuse includes all acts by a caregiver that result in physical harm to a child. Physical abuse may happen if a child is punished harshly, even though the parent or caregiver may not have meant to hurt the child.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse may result in a minor injury such as a bruise, to a more serious injury, which could cause lasting damage or death (for example, from shaking a child). Inappropriate punishment includes but is not limited to anything that leaves a mark on the child, or the use of an object to strike a child. Although cultural factors play a role in caring for and/or disciplining children, injuring a child is unacceptable.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when a person uses power over a child to involve the child in any sexual act. The power of the abuser can lie in his/her age, intellectual or physical development, relationship of authority over the child, and/or the child’s dependency on him/her. Elements of sexual abuse include:

  • The sexual act is intended to gratify the needs of the abuser. “Touching” is not the only criteria in defining sexual abuse. It includes acts such as: fondling; genital stimulation; oral sex; exposing oneself; sexual exploitation over the Internet; as well as exposing a child to, or involving a child in pornography or prostitution.
  • The offender may engage the child in the sexual activity through threats, bribes, force, lies, and by taking advantage of the child’s trust.
  • Most of the time, the offender is someone known to the child and trusted by the child/family.
Emotional Abuse

The continual use of any of the following by a parent or caregiver when interacting or disciplining a child:

  • rejecting (e.g., saying “I wish you were never born.”)
  • criticizing (e.g., saying “Why can’t you do anything right?”)
  • insulting (e.g., saying “I can’t believe you would be so stupid.”)
  • humiliating (e.g., embarrassing a child in front of other people)
  • isolating (e.g., not allowing a child to play with friends)
  • terrorizing (e.g., scaring a child by saying “The police will come and take you away.”)
  • corrupting (e.g., always swearing in front of the child, or getting the child to participate in things against the law)
  • not responding emotionally

Children who are exposed to violence in their homes may suffer emotional harm watching a loved one being physically or verbally attacked.


The following statistics are the findings of the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, the first nation-wide study to examine the incidence of reported child abuse in Canada.

  • 93% of alleged perpetrators are known to their child victims.
  • 69% of sexual abuse cases involved girls and 31% involved boys.
  • 60% of physical abuse cases involved boys and 40% involved girls.
  • 69% of physical abuse cases resulted from inappropriate punishment.
  • Failure to supervise children resulting in physical harm accounted for 48% of neglect cases.
  • Exposure to family violence was the most common form of emotional abuse (58% of substantiated cases).
  • There are more than five million children worldwide drawn into child prostitution and child sex tourism, including over 200,000 in Canada.
Exposure To Family Violence
  • It is estimated that 2-6 children in every Canadian school classroom have witnessed some form of woman abuse in the home over the past year. Children who witness family violence often experience the same types of emotional and behavioural problems experienced by children who have been abused themselves.
  • In Canada, between April 1, 2005 and March 31, 2006, approximately 106,000 women and children were admitted to shelters, most often to escape abuse.
Child Homicides
  • Approximately 100 child homicides occur each year in Canada.
  • Between 1975 and 2004, 86% of victims under the age of 18 were killed by a parent.
  • In 4.4% of the spousal homicides in Canada in 2004, children of the perpetrators were also killed.
Internet Exploitation
  • Canadian police estimate that there are more than 100,000 websites that contain thousands of child abuse images.
  • 50% of collected images between 2000 and 2001 were of children aged 5 or younger.
  • 50% of all child sexual abuse images (child pornography) is made by family members.
  • Although there are over one million child sexual abuse images in circulation over the Internet, with approximately 100,000 different child victims, only about 800 children worldwide have been identified.