Types of child abuse

There are 4 types of child abuse:

  • physical
  • sexual
  • emotional
  • neglect.

Child abuse can be a single incident or several incidents that take place over time.

The Child Protection Act 1999 focuses on the impact of the abuse on the child, rather than how often the abuse has occurred. In particular, whether the child has suffered significant harm, is suffering significant harm, or is at risk of suffering significant harm.* The Act also looks at whether a child who has been harmed has a parent who is able and willing to protect them.

*Harm is any detrimental effect of a significant nature on the child’s physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing. You can read more about the definition of harm in the Act.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse happens when a child has been hurt or injured, and it is not an accident. Physical abuse does not always leave visible marks or injuries.

Physical abuse can include:

  • hitting
  • shaking
  • choking
  • smothering
  • throwing
  • burning
  • biting
  • poisoning
  • using physical restraints.

Sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse happens when an adult, teenager or child uses their power or authority to involve another child in sexual activity.

Find out more about child sexual abuse, including how to notice the signs, what is normal sexual behaviour in children, myths and facts about child sexual abuse, how to protect a child from sexual abuse, and where to get help and advice.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse happens when a child is treated in a way that negatively impacts their social, emotional or intellectual development.

Emotional abuse can be caused by:

  • rejection
  • name calling, teasing or bullying
  • yelling
  • criticism
  • isolation or locking a child up for extended periods
  • exposure to domestic and family violence.

Experiencing domestic and family violence can also lead to emotional harm. A child who experiences violence at home is at greater risk of not having their basic needs met, including their protection and care needs. Domestic and family violence can:

  • affect a child’s emotional wellbeing and development
  • teach them that violence is a solution to problems
  • cause post-traumatic stress disorder.


Neglect happens when a child's basic needs are not met, affecting their health and development. Basic needs include:

  • food
  • housing and clean living conditions
  • health care
  • adequate clothing
  • personal hygiene
  • adequate supervision.