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Health and Wellbeing
A Health and Well-being Wales Partner

Child abuse is a term used to describe any form of abuse or neglect towards a child or young person, usually at the hands of an adult (although children and young people do sometimes abuse one another).

Childhood abuse can cause lifelong harm. Many adults who were abused as children go on to have problems forming relationships and may subsequently suffer mental health issues.

Sadly, many children and young people suffer multiple forms of abuse.

Child abuse is always wrong, mostly illegal and must be stopped.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse often involves hitting, punching or kicking, but may also include cigarette burns or giving the child alcohol or drugs. Physical abuse usually leaves marks on the child so it can be easier to spot than other forms of abuse.

Since March 2022, all forms of physical punishment of children – such as smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking – are illegal in Wales. This includes physical punishment by the child’s parents.

Emotional abuse

Typically, emotional abuse is when an adult threatens, humiliates, criticises or ignores a child.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse includes kissing, inappropriate touching, oral sex and full intercourse. It is also abuse to show pornography to a child or allow them to watch adults having sex. Children are more likely to be sexually abused by people they know well and their associates.


Some parents, for whatever reason, are unable to provide a child with its basic needs. Examples of neglect might include inadequate clothing for the weather, letting the child go hungry and not seeking medical attention when it is needed.

Domestic abuse

Allowing children to witness domestic abuse is a form of child abuse. If you have children and you remain in an abusive relationship, there may be child protection concerns.

Recognising the signs of child abuse

Children will often go to great lengths to hide the fact that they are being abused, especially if the abuser is a parent or close family member. They might be scared of the consequences of speaking out, or fear they won’t be believed.

Your suspicions should be aroused if a child has unexplained bruising, cuts, burns or other injuries, is unhappy, distressed or frightened, seems withdrawn (or aggressive), shows signs of physical neglect, starts bedwetting or having nightmares, tries to avoid their abuser or is having difficulty concentrating at school.

Keeping children safe

Keeping children safe is everybody’s responsibility.

If you have the slightest suspicion that a child is being abused or neglected – or you think you are being abused – you must tell someone immediately.

Contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team. In an emergency, call 999.

No-one will reveal your name and you could be saving a child’s life.

Last updated: 02/05/2023