Hearing the word child abuse, our minds automatically conjure up images of a miserable child in an unprivileged neighborhood, living with uneducated, violent parents, and maybe sporting a couple of black eyes and burns, right?

Well, it is true that unexplained injuries in children such as black eyes and burns are considered signs of child abuse. However, child abuse is not only limited to low-income families; child abuse is also common among working-class, middle-class and even rich families and is sadly often disguised as “discipline”.

So what is child abuse? And how can you know if your child is subjected to abuse?

Child abuse is commonly defined as any form of intentional harm, physical or verbal, caused by a parent or a caregiver to a child.

This physical and/or verbal maltreatment of children hinders their development, affects their physical, mental and psychological health and its negative consequences can last a lifetime. Therefore, it’s important for you, as a parent or caregiver, to understand the different types of child abuse and how they affect your child. It is also necessary for you to know the difference between abuse and discipline.

Child abuse is often categorized into four categories: physical, emotional, sexual and neglect. 

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse involves any form of violence that physically harms your child such as hitting, beating, punching, burning, kicking, cutting, etc.

Sometimes you can act as an abuser, whereas you may believe that you’re just disciplining your children and teaching them right from wrong.

I always hear stories of fathers who beat their children, especially boys, with belts when they make a mistake.

I remember a little boy I met once whose arms and upper body were full of bruises. Sadly, his explanation was: “I was playing with my bike in the street, so my daddy hit me.“

We do not want to justify the father’s reaction even if it’s out of his excessive love. It is still considered physical abuse that affects not only the child’s physique, but also his mental and emotional health.

Do not let your love for your children turn into abuse!

Emotional Abuse

Never ever underestimate the power of words! Your words could either heal or break your child, so please choose your words wisely next time you address your child!

Emotional abuse encompasses many forms of psychological maltreatment, such as:

  • Destructive Criticism: “Enta Fashel” (You are a failure!) or “Tekhenti awi w shaklek wehesh” (You have gotten really fat and you look horrible)
  • Persistent Threats: “3aref law 3amalt keda tani ha3mel fik eh?” (Do you know if you do this again what I will do to you?)“Law magebtesh daragat helwa mafish safar!” (If you don’t get good grades, there will be no trips) “HA!! Ana olt eh?” (Ha! What did I say?)
  • Negative Comparisons to Others: “X gab daraga ahsan menak leh?” (Why did X get a better grade than you?) “Shayfa okhtek ashtar menek ezay?” (Do you see how much your sister is smarter than you?)
  • Name-Calling and Humiliation: “Ya Ghabi!” (Stupid) “Ya Homar!” (Donkey) “Enta Ya Zeft!” (You are trash)
  • Silent treatment: It’s when you decide to punish your children by not talking to them or communicating with them verbally).

Exposing your child to domestic violence is considered a form of emotional abuse as well. So next time you decide to have a fight with your spouse, please make sure your children aren’t there!

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when a child is forced or manipulated in engaging in any kind of sexual activity that is inappropriate for their age, for example, molesting and sexual intercourse.

It is not only physical, however. Exposing a child to any sexual content or material, such as graphic sexual scenes in movies or pornography is considered a form of sexual abuse as well.

Sexual abuse causes the children to develop feelings of shame, especially in our middle Eastern societies!

Sadly and surprisingly, relatives and close friends are more likely to manipulate your child to engage in sexual activities than strangers.

Never leave your children unsupervised, even if you blindly trust that person!


Neglect is a form of abuse that affects your child’s self-development and causes him/her to develop feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem.

Neglect occurs when you fail to meet the needs of your children, whether physical, emotional or medical.

Failing to provide your child with the very basic physical necessities such as food, clothes and shelter is considered a form of physical neglect.

Emotional neglect is when you fail to provide your child with the basic emotional needs of love, safety, attention and affection.

If you don’t treat your child’s illness or injuries, then you’re medically neglecting your child.

Spend one-on-one quality time with your children, get to know them better and try to understand their needs and remember that “all fingers are not the same”!

16 signs your child is most probably a victim of any of the different types of abuse: 

  1. Unexplained bruises or physical injuries
  2. Fear of making mistakes
  3. Frequent abdominal pain that cannot be explained medically
  4. Detachment from you
  5. Frequent nightmares
  6. Low self-esteem
  7. Unexplained depression
  8. Suicidal attempts
  9. Attempts to run away
  10. Nervousness when going back home
  11. Poor hygiene is a sign of neglect
  12. Sexual, seductive behavior
  13. Interest in sexual material or activities inappropriate to their age
  14. Avoiding a specific person or place for no obvious reason
  15. Genital pain or bleeding
  16. Having difficulties walking or sitting


Photo Credit: This picture was taken in Manshiet Naser while working on a developmental project with children deprived of their right to education, in collaboration with Nebny Foundation.