The Concept of Child Abuse

The concept of child abuse can be defined as any action that comes from the person responsible for the child, either by commission or omission, which puts (or can put) at risk the physical, emotional or cognitive integrity of the child. One of the determining aspects that are analyzed to assess the existence or not of this phenomenon comes from the study of the environment in which the child develops. Usually speaking of a maladaptive or harmful environment when various factors occur such as a restructuring at the family level in which they frequently resort to aggressive interactions, low affection, a marginal socio-economic level, a dysfunctional school environment at the psych pedagogical level, a social environment lacking interests, insufficient cultural-urbanistic resources, or presence of a conflictive environment in the neighborhood.

A definition of child abuse is similar to that described is that of the General Assembly of the United Nations of 1989: ‘Child maltreatment is any form of violence, physical or mental harm or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, ill-treatment or exploitation, which occurs while the child is in the custody of their parents, a guardian or any other person who is in charge.

During the first 8 years of a child’s life, many changes occur. In just a few years, he goes from being a helpless baby, dependent on his parents, to becoming a small self-employed with his own interests that has already formed an image of the world. In fact, if we look back we will be amazed at how much it has grown and the huge leap that it has taken at the psychological level.

During the first year of life, the baby grows in sight and goes from being a child who can not stand alone to being a child who launches to discover their environment and actively relates to those around him. In this period his movements are perfected. At 5 months he is already able to pick up small objects with his hand, a movement known as a grasping reflex that represents the anteroom of the gripper grip, which, later on, will allow him to hold the pencil to write and make his first ‘abstract drawings’ . Before the first year he will be able to hold his head on his own and crawl, and between 9 and 12 months, sometimes a little later, he will begin to take his first steps (Kleinman, 2015).

During this stage his main means of communication is crying, although around the second month of life he will begin to show what is known as ‘social smile’, since until now his smile was a simple reflection. Around 7 months will begin to stammer some loose syllables, such as ‘pa’ or ‘ma’, which will allow you to train your speech device.

During these first months he will also begin to react to stimuli that are pleasing to him and will be more interested in seeing and hearing what is happening around him. And after 5 months your range of emotions will be greatly expanded since not only will you feel happy when you are caressed, but you will also get irritated when you do not get what you want. From the first year of life the child gains independence, is able to communicate better what he wants and his motor and cognitive skills are developed at high speed.

At this age most, children will have already taken their first steps. At the beginning you will need a little help and it is likely that you walk leaning on the furniture to avoid falling, but as the months go by, you will gain in balance and you will be able to walk alone. In fact, at the end of 2 years you will be able to run and go up and down stairs with relative ease. At the same time, his fine motor skills are developed, the manual movements become more precise and at 2 years he will be able to use the spoon to take the food to his mouth without spilling the contents (Van der Kolk, 2017).

At this stage you can already say some words with meaning and understand simple commands such as ‘give me’ or ‘take’. In fact, your vocabulary will consist of about 50 words, which will allow you to communicate more easily. You can also answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the questions you ask, as well as identify some objects and animals using onomatopoeic sounds. In addition, he is able to relate the story he hears to the illustrations of children’s stories, an important step in the development of his verbal expression and symbolic thought. Around the year he will also begin to release his incipient character and will be able to experience and express more complex feelings such as shame, pride and jealousy. However, the first temper tantrums also appear because he is still not able to regulate his emotions.

In this period the child is more independent and enjoys his autonomy. He has gained more control over his movements and feels more confident. His social skills have also improved so he will be more cooperative at home and start making friends on his own.

Now he will practically double his height with respect to the moment of birth. Your balance and coordination will have improved significantly, so that you can throw a ball high and even jump on one foot. However, one of the most important changes is that lateral dominance begins to manifest itself, so that you will start using one hand more than the other, which will help you to fine-tune your fine motor movements. By the time you are 4 years old, you will have incorporated into your language around 1,000 words, so you can prepare sentences with up to 5 words, which helps you to communicate better. His thinking and intelligence are also developing, so that he is now able to understand more complicated concepts. Your memory has also been consolidated and you can remember simple commands, count up to 4 easily, distinguish colors and differentiate objects according to their characteristics (Christian & Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, 2015).

However, the fact that he is able to express himself better does not mean that he has full control of his emotions. Temper tantrums and crying persist at this stage as he still does not know how to express his feelings assertively. It is also usual to be more rebellious when you feel too much pressure or when you want to assert your opinion and defend your independence.

At this age the child is already independent enough to do most of his daily activities alone, so he will begin to test his skills. Between the ages of 4 and 8 he achieves an almost perfect control of his movements, so he begins to acquire new coordination skills that will allow him to learn how to ride a bike or skate. His fine motor skills are also perfected, in fact, his strokes are much firmer, he already knows how to write with relative ease and can even tear and cut with great precision.

From the intellectual point of view, when you reach 8 years old, you already have a very broad vocabulary that allows you to clearly express what you want and think. He already knows how to use pronouns, articles and prepositions well and is able to conjugate verbs. In fact, the grammatical construction of his sentences is almost perfect and pronunciation errors are already a thing of the past. Her ideas have also undergone a great change, are based more on reality and no longer confused with their fantasies. In addition, his abstract thinking begins to develop. Now his feelings are more lasting, which is related to the psychological maturity and emotional development he has achieved. He is also more aware of his emotions and able to express or hide them. He has also learned to grasp a broader range of emotions and be more empathetic to others

Child maltreatment can be defined as those active or omitted behavior, intentional or negligent, occasional or maintained in time that compromise the physical or emotional integrity of minors, their sexual freedom and indemnity or, in general, their correct development. An adequate response to child maltreatment requires establishing guidelines for action that should guide the intervention of the different public institutions and the different areas of professional action, from an integrated and intersectoral approach and according to the responsibility that each one of them has. And all this, with the fundamental objective of preserving and defending the rights of minors and intervening when they are violated, especially in situations of abuse.

Its construction, like any other, is a gradual process that is accomplished in stages. During childhood this structure is very fragile and that is why children are endowed with the so-called childhood innocence, which allows them to perceive the world above all as a place full of magic, beauty and harmony. In the same way that it is necessary to initially support the foundations of a building and wait for them to solidify before carrying them with all the weight they will bear, children need the protection of their family and society so that their mind and heart they are fed with the kind realities of life as they develop the capacities and strengths to support the most painful and negative aspects of it. But unfortunately, TV, and now the Internet, are exposing children to all sorts of violent, infamous and immortal stories and events that their fragile childhood condition is not designed to carry. Thus, a vast majority of them are now victims of what Mary Pipher, Ph.D (reviving Ophelia) called cultural abuse, a term that describes this subtle and dangerous form of child abuse. In fact, until the first half of the century the facts and customs of life, that is to say culture, were transmitted first of all through the teachings of the elderly and, for some, through the written media. Children were thus subject to limited information, which wise and gradual, gave their elders.

But in recent years, television has destroyed that gradual process of revealing the less kind truths, exposing children, from very young, to all sorts of scenes and stories bloody, infamous or tenebrous. Children, and even teenagers, do not have the emotional solidity or the moral criteria to see, for example, how many young girls are sold on the streets to buy drinks or drugs, how children like them kill their own parents with bullets, how young gangsters are brutally brutalized by blows, or how women also rape men, all this represented in great detail. And the damage does not end there. The problem is not that television does not educate enough, but rude and irresistible force, teaching children a series of behaviors that go against the fundamental ethical principles of any society that seeks the welfare of its members. And the culture that transmits TV is filling children with distrust, hopelessness, anguish, aggression, and what is worse, confusion between what is right and what is wrong. And this is a form of abuse.

The characters that this is happening are not only the producers and sponsors of the television programs. The biggest fault lies with the public that tune them because if they did not have an audience they would not continue to be presented. But the incredible thing is that parents are accomplices of this abuse by allowing our children to spend their free time entertained by perverts, guerrillas, murderers, women of happy life, etc., under the pretext that we can not do anything because the culprits are the programmers of TV.

What would we do if someone happened to distribute to home, and directly to children, sexual stimulants, firearms, or illicit drugs? It is our obligation to avoid, however, that our children continue to consume the atrocities that daily and in their own home they offer these devices.

Loving children is to protect them against everything that hurts them. The audiovisual media are seriously damaging the mental structure and moral integrity of our children, cracking the foundations on which they will build their lives. Just as no building can stand firm without good foundations, no life can be built and become full without solid foundations that constitute its starting point. It is in our hands to avoid the collapse of our children and with it the collapse of a promising future for them and for our society.

Child abuse interventions:

Abuse of children by their parents or other caregivers is a major problem in public health and social welfare in many countries, especially high-income ones. It is a common problem that can cause death, serious injuries and long-term consequences that will affect the life of the child in adulthood, his family and society in general. The WHO 2006 report on the prevention of child maltreatment emphasizes the need to pay attention to this issue in order to achieve investment in prevention and epidemiological surveillance. There are determining factors within the characteristics of the mistreatment and the or the abusers. Most of the time parents have problems with substance abuse, mental illness or mental disability and violence.

Girls are more at risk of being sexually abused than boys, although the rates of other types of abuse are similar for both sexes in high-income countries. In underdeveloped countries, girls are at greater risk of infanticide, sexual abuse and neglect, while children are at greater risk of severe physical punishment. Children with disabilities, regardless of their gender, have a higher risk of abuse, although it has not been determined exactly to what extent their disability is a cause or consequence of the abuse.

Abuse increases in minors the risk of suffering behavior problems, including internalization (anxiety, depression) and externalization (aggression) of behavior. Children who witness violence inflicted between their parents are at greater risk of presenting behavioral problems, but if this factor is independent of the other forms of abuse it is debatable.

In Sweden, there is a therapeutic program that aims to develop intervention for children and adolescents exposed to negligence or domestic violence. Its objective was to implement a new treatment in that country: Multisystemic Therapy for Child Abuse and Neglect, MST-CAN.

Based on the US MST program, MST-CAN is an outpatient intervention; the treatment focuses on the network of family and friends and the environment of each family. His multi-system perspective addresses change in all family systems: work, school, family, neighbors, family relationships and friends. The goal is both children from households in which there is neglect and / or abuse as parents or other relevant adults with mental health problems and addictions. In addition, it includes the treatment of traumas, both for adults and children, and intensive pharmacological treatment for parents, if applicable. As a result of the intervention, it provides children and adolescents with a safer home environment, and helps parents take more responsibility in their role, eliminating psychological and physical violence (Finkelhor, Shattuck, Turner & Hamby, 2014).

Since the 1980s, it has been an option for social services in various countries. In the Netherlands, for example, it is the private sector – through insurers – that supports this program, positively influencing the decrease in crime. In Sweden, several municipalities join and buy the team of professionals consisting of a supervisor, four therapists and a psychiatrist.

The effective treatment for a family is estimated between six and nine months. The average number of beneficiaries reaches five people. The therapists meet with each family three to five times a week and work out the objectives that the family members themselves formulate. The work is carried out mainly in the family home or in the places where the family resides, for example, the children’s school. The therapists work at times that suit the family, often afternoons and weekends, and the team has an availability to families 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


  1. Kleinman, P. K. (Ed.). (2015). Diagnostic imaging of child abuse. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Van der Kolk, B. A. (2017). This issue: child abuse & victimization. Psychiatric Annals, 35(5), 374-378.
  3. Christian, C. W., & Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect. (2015). The evaluation of suspected child physical abuse. Pediatrics, peds-2015.
  4. Devries, K. M., Mak, J. Y., Child, J. C., Falder, G., Bacchus, L. J., Astbury, J., & Watts, C. H. (2014). Childhood sexual abuse and suicidal behavior: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 133(5), e1331-e1344.
  5. Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2014). The lifetime prevalence of child sexual abuse and sexual assault assessed in late adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(3), 329-333.
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The Concept of Child Abuse. (2021, May 18). Retrieved June 13, 2024 , from

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