Here are some views and statistics about child abuse and its cost to society. These are just some examples of available information.

Graham Wilmer December 2006 -

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is a generic term describing the physical or mental mistreatment of anyone under the age of 16.

This abuse takes a variety of forms, from serious sexual and physical assaults to mental and psychological ill-treatment.

Child abuse can be conducted by both commission, such as with sexual assault, or by omission, as in the case of neglect or abandonment.

Child abuse is a particularly sensitive, emotive and delicate issue, and is widely perceived as a heinous crime by the general public.

Most forms of child abuse are a criminal offence but civil actions may be taken in negligence against local authorities and police entrusted with child protection.


There is a vast range of legislation and common law guidance regulating the treatment of children, but the earliest statutory examples are the Infant Life Protection Act 1872 (regulating 'baby farming') and the Children Act 1889, imposing criminal sanctions to deter mistreatment of children.

Under the provisions of the poor laws, poor law guardians and juvenile courts were given powers to commit children into the care of local authorities.

Modern arrangements for child protection are incorporated into a range of legislation and have undergone an intense period of review since 2001.

In particular, the Home Office published a white paper in 2002 titled 'Protecting the Public', which contained a number of new proposals relating to child abuse offences, including an offence of 'grooming' and the strengthening of the sex offenders register (created under the Sexual Offences Act 1997).

The new provisions were contained in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which was aimed at protecting children and the most vulnerable. The legislation, which came into force in May 2004, covered offenders who used new technology to abuse children. The act also contained measures to strengthen the monitoring of offenders on the sex offenders' register and a range of new offences and harsher sentences for sexual offences against children and vulnerable people.

Further reform of the current interagency approach to child protection (between the police and social services) has been reviewed following the Lord Laming report in 2003.

Lord Laming recommended fundamental changes to the organisation and management of services to support children and families. Among the many recommendations were the creation of a 'Children and Families Board' at the heart of Government, a 'National Agency for Children and Families' and a national children's database.


Although anyone responsible for child abuse of any sort is treated with public opprobrium, the issue of 'paedophiles' and the potential for their rehabilitation and subsequent re-introduction into society has attracted much controversy in the UK and elsewhere.

This is largely because of the highly emotive nature of the sexual abuse of children, resulting from the perceived innocence of youth, the vulnerability of children and social conceptions of these child abusers as evil and beyond help.

Indeed, when it comes to punishment for those convicted of sexual offences against children, the notion of rehabilitation and human rights is confronted by a social desire for punishment and retribution. This is reflected in a rising trend in vigilantism and community 'witch hunts' against those released back into the community.

The issue remains a vexed one, with the judiciary's sentencing of offenders and Government initiatives to crack down on child abuse often clashing with social perceptions of the culpability of these offenders and the appropriate level of punishment.


  • Each week at least one child will die as the result of an adult's cruelty

  • The current cost of child abuse to statutory and voluntary organisations is £1 billion a year. Most of this is spent dealing with the aftermath of abuse rather than its prevention

  • There were 25,900 children on child protection registers in 2005 because they were at risk of abuse – down from 30,020 in 2001.

  • Most abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts

  • Latest available figures show that in 2002, 45 per cent of all rapes and attempted rapes in England and Wales that resulted in conviction were committed against children under 16

  • There are 80 to 100 homicides of children aged between 0 to 16 each year in the UK

  • In 2005 there were around 385,300 children 'in need' in England who were known to local authorities as requiring some form of social services provision

  • The number of people cautioned or charged with offences relating to abusive images of children on the internet in England and Wales quadrupled from 2001 to 2003 from 549 to 2,234

    Statistics 1 and 2 (NSPCC, 2003); Statistic 3 (NSPCC, 2006); Statistic 4 (NSPCC, 2003); Statistic 5 (Home Office report by Kelly, Lovett and Regan 2005); Statistic 6 (NSPCC, 2004); Statistic 7 (DfES, 2005); Statistic 8 (NCH, 2005)


    "I recognise the fact that over the years, successive Governments have refined both legislation and policy, no doubt informed in part by earlier inquiries of this kind, so that in general, the legislative framework for protecting children is basically sound. I conclude that the gap is not a matter of law but in its implementation."

  • Lord Laming, Report of the Climbie Inquiry, 2003

    "Everyone can be part of the human barrier against child abuse."

  • NSPCC chief executive Mary Marsh on new drive "be the FULL STOP", part of the NSPCC's FULL STOP campaign to end cruelty to children, 2006

    "It is a courageous piece of legislation and I believe that it provides laws, such as the new grooming offence, that are fit for the 21st century and strikes the right balance between giving greater protection for victims and ensuring fairness under the law for defendants.
  • Home secretary David Blunkett on the passing of the Sexual Offences Bill in 2003.
  • Introduction

    What is child abuse?

    All parents upset their children sometimes. Saying `no' and managing difficult behaviour is an essential part of parenting. Tired or stressed parents can lose control and can do or say something they regret, and may even hurt the child. If this happens often enough, it can seriously harm the child. That is why abuse is defined in law. The Children Act 1989 states that abuse should be considered to have happened when someone's actions have caused a child to suffer significant harm to their health or development.
    Significant harm means that someone is:

    Who abuses children?

    Children are usually abused by someone in their immediate family circle. This can include parents, brothers or sisters, babysitters or other familiar adults. It is quite unusual for strangers to be involved.

    How can you tell if a child is being abused?

    Physically abused children may be:


    Sexually abused children may:


    Emotionally abused or neglected children may:


    It can be hard to detect long-standing abuse by an adult the child is close to. It is often very difficult for the child to tell anyone about it, as the abuser may have threatened to hurt them if they tell anybody. A child may not say anything because they think it is their fault, that no one will believe them or that they will be teased or punished. The child may even love the abusing adult, they want the abuse to stop, but they don't want the adult to go to prison or for the family to break up.
    If you suspect that a child is being abused, you may be able to help them to talk about it. Your local Social Services Child Protection Adviser will be able to offer more detailed advice.

    Where can I get help?

    First and foremost, the child must be protected from further abuse. Social Services will need to be involved to find out:

    Child Protection

    After investigation, Social Services may be satisfied that the problems have been sorted out, and that the parents can now care for and protect the child properly. If so, they will remain involved only if the family wants their help. If Social Services are concerned that a child is being harmed, they will arrange a child protection case conference. The parents and professionals who know the child will be invited. A plan will be made to help the child and family and ensure that there is no further harm.

    Help to look after the child

    When a child has been abused within the family, the person involved is sometimes able to own up to what they have done and wants help. They can then be helped to look after their child better. Occasionally, the child may have to be taken away from the abusing adult because the risks of physical and emotional harm are too great. This can be for a short time, until things become safer, or may be permanent.

    Specialist treatment

    Many children need specialist treatment because of the abuse they have endured. Some receive help from family centres run by social services. If they are worried, depressed or being very difficult, the child and family might need help from the local child and adolescent mental health service. These specialists may work with the whole family, or with children and adolescents alone. Sometimes they work with teenagers in groups. Individual therapy can be especially helpful for children who have been sexually abused, or who have experienced severe trauma. Children who have suffered serious abuse or neglect can be difficult to care for, and the service can offer help and advice to parents and carers.


    Sources of further information



    © [2004] Royal College of Psychiatrists. This factsheet may be downloaded, printed out, photocopied and distributed free of charge as long as the Royal College of Psychiatrists is properly credited and no profit is gained from its use. Permission to reproduce it in any other way must be obtained from the Head of Publications. The College does not allow reposting of its factsheets on other sites, but allows them to be linked to directly.


    Key facts and figures

    About child abuse and the NSPCC

    We've put together a list of facts and figures which will give you a better picture of the task ahead of us and how we can all help end cruelty to children. 

    What you need to know about Child abuse
    Information about the NSPCC

    For Financial information please visit the Get involved section.

    What you need to know about Child abuse

    • Seven per cent of children experience serious physical abuse at the hands of their parents or carers during childhood.
    • One per cent of children experienced sexual abuse by a parent or carer and another three per cent by another relative during childhood. Eleven per cent of children experience sexual abuse by people known but unrelated to them. Five per cent of children experience sexual abuse by an adult stranger or someone they have just met.
    • Six per cent of children experience serious absence of care at home during childhood.
    • Six per cent of children experience frequent and severe emotional maltreatment during childhood.1

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    Information about the NSPCC

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    1 Cawson et al., 2000, Child Maltreatment in the UK: A Study of the Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect, NSPCC.
    2 Cawson, 2002, Child Maltreatment in the Family: The Experience of a National Sample of Young People, NSPCC
    3 DfES, 2004, Statistics of Education: Children looked after by Local Authorities, Year Ending 31 March 2003 Volume 1: Commentary and National Tables, National Assembly for Wales, 2003, Adoptions, Outcomes and Placements for Children Looked After by Local Authorities: Year ending 31 March 2002, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (N.I.), 2003, Community Statistics 1 April 2002 - 31 March 2003, Scottish Executive, 2002, Children Looked After Statistics 2001-2002. 
    4 DfES, 2004, Statistics of Education: Children looked after by Local Authorities, Year Ending 31 March 2003 Volume 1: Commentary and National Tables, National Assembly for Wales, 2003, Adoptions, Outcomes and Placements for Children Looked After by Local Authorities: Year ending 31 March 2002, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (N.I.), 2003, Community Statistics 1 April 2002 - 31 March 2003, Scottish Executive, 2002, Children Looked After Statistics 2001-2002. 
    5 Office of National Statistics, Mortality Statistics.
    6 Home Office (2004) Crime in England and Wales 2002-3: Supplementary Volume 1, Homicide and Gun Crime.
    7 Home Office (2004) Crime in England and Wales 2002-3: Supplementary Volume 1, Homicide and Gun Crime.
    8 Home Office (2004) Crime in England and Wales 2002-3: Supplementary Volume 1, Homicide and Gun Crime.
    9 Cawson et al., 2000, Child Maltreatment in the UK: A Study of the Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect, NSPCC. 
    10 Harris and Grace, 1999, A question of evidence? Investigating and prosecuting rape in the 1990s, Home Office.
    11 Cawson et al., 2000, Child Maltreatment in the UK: A Study of the Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect, NSPCC.
    12 NSPCC Services for Children and Young People Annual Statistics 2003-4.
    13 National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse, 1996, Childhood Matters: Report of the National Commission of Enquiry into the prevention of Child Abuse.

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    Protecting your children from sexual abuse

    By Tope Afolayan - Nigerian Tribune - December 8th 2006

    Children must know that respect does not
    mean blind obedience to adults.

    THERE is no universal definition of child sexual abuse. However, a central characteristic of any abuse, is the dominant position of an adult to force or coerce a child into sexual activity. Child sexual abuse, a deliberate exposure of a minor or a child to sexual abuse may include fondling a child’s genitals, masturbation, oral-genital contact, and vaginal and anal intercourse.

    Child sexual abuse can take place within the family, by a parent, step-parent, siblings or other relatives; or even outside the home. For example, by a friend, neighbour, guardian or child–care person, teacher, or stranger. Sexual abuse in children is not restricted to physical contact, but could also include non-tenant abuses like exposure, voyeurism, and pornography. Abuse by peers can also occur.

    Having established these basic facts, the question is: When can a child be said to be sexually abused? Child care expert, Shiela Walsh says “sexual abuse in children has been reported in many parts of the world, up to 8,000 times a year, but the number of unreported instances is far greater because children are afraid to tell anyone what has happened, and the legal procedure for validating an episode is difficult.

    “Accurate statistics on prevalence of child sexual abuse are difficult to collect because of problems of underreporting and the lack of definition of what constitutes an abuse”. Does it then mean that when an individual who is 20 years old is sexual abused, such a person is not protected under the child rights law? asked Izuchukwu Dumbili, a legal practitioner who also argued that even a teenager who was forcefully given out in marriage to a man who had sex with her against her wish, has been sexually abused.

    “Take for example, a young girl who visits a friend’s house and a male friend now takes advantage of her during the course of her visit. Even if she went there with an intention to have sexual intercourse and mid way, probably while they were still at fore play, she then say’s ‘no’ I am no longer interested, the law recognises her withdrawn consent. It recognises that even if you have penetrated her and then she says stop, any further thrust is rape and for a young person, that is child sexual abuse”, Iwuchukwu explained.

    Going by what causes sexual abuse and why it is growing in our community in such an alarming rate, Helen Elilegbu, a practising nurse said children are exposed to sexual abuses when parents do not have time for them but entrust them to others. “Some of these children’s teachers are pedophiliac, that is people who prefer having sexual relationship with children. Children tend to be lured into sexual activities through their friends who are already sexually active and through watching of obscene pictures, including pornography films. Some do it out of curiosity, to know more about their sexuality”, she stated.

    According to the lawyer, it is more of a psychological and cultural thing “when a forty–year old man sexually abuses a three year–old child or a six months old baby, how can you justify that. Such an individual is psychologically unbalanced. God forbid that such a criminal would go into the court to plead insanity and go scout free. “It is also a cultural thing to have a older man forced on a child, and as such, the child is sexually abused. But the family members do not see any crime in it, even though the law says it is criminal.

    He explained that it is not enough for the law to say this is what will be done to abusers, rather, it should be able to prevent certain things from happening. Yes, there is a law called the Child Right Act 2003, but in matters like this, it is helpless. The law requires that the abused goes to court to present the case with medical evidence that shows semen has been deposited in her which must also match that of the culprit. But if the time span has passed and there is no evidence, then there is no case”.

    Effects of sexual abuse on a child
    Izuchukwu explained that most rape victims are usually reluctant to talk about the attack. They live in constant fear of being attacked again and as such experience disturbed sleep. According to Helen, children who are sexually abused tend to become psychologically depressed and bitter towards everybody around them. Socially, they tend to become introverts and they hardly trust any other person that comes their way.

    Physically, they are traumatised and medically, there might be disturbances in their eating habit especially in the early weeks of abuse. They are unable to sleep for fear of another attack. Some of them even become sexually active through this means and cannot do without sex. For others, they may experience vaginismus, a situation whereby they tend not to enjoy sex any more.

    No child is psychologically prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation. A child who is five or older, who is cared for by an abuser becomes trapped between affection or loyalty, and the sense that the sexual activities are terribly wrong. If the child tries to break away from the sexual relationship, the abuser may threaten the child with violence or loss of love. When the sexual abuse occurs in the family, the child may fear the anger, jealousy or shame of other family members, or be afraid the family will break up if the secret is told.”

    A child who is a victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormally or distorted view of sex. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, and can be become suicidal. Some even have difficulty relating to others. Most of them cannot concentrate in school and as such are affected education-wise,” she stressed.

    Effect on the society
    It affects the society in the sense that these children who have not probably developed turn out to be social misfits. So for every social misfit, the society would have to pay for it. Izuchukwu however noted that it is not only a girl–child that is abused, a boy–child could also be raped. “It is only that in this part of the world, girls are more of the victims than boys, but that does not rule out the fact that boys can also been raped.

    That is more of the reason why Izuchukwu agreed with some individuals whose opinion is that rape should not only be a situation where a penetration has occurred but also an immersion, in which case the law also protects boys that are being raped. To protect these children, Shiela advised every parent to make every effort to help make a child feel safe and talk freely. “If a child says that he or she has been molested, it is the duty of the parent to remain calm and reassure the child that what happened was not his/her fault. Parents should seek medical examination and psychiatric consultation in this matter.

    Parents can prevent or lessen the chance of sexual abuse by telling children that if someone tries to touch their body and do things that make them feel funny, they should say No to that person or tell their parent promptly. Professional prevention programmes in the system need to be encouraged. Children must know that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults.

    She said, “parents should show love to their children by spending more time with them. They should teach their children about sexuality education. They should always watch what their kids do behind close doors and also monitor what they wear. To Izuchukwu, a socio-cultural body that will control cultural practices and traditions should be established. “This is because to a very large extent, sexual abuse in children is a cultural practice that must be discouraged at all cost. We should be our brother’s keeper by watching over each other’s children. Our law should be looked into to prevent such occurrences”.