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Forms of Violence: **Physical abuse**

23/06/2011  | Child Rights International Network



What is physical abuse?

According to the UN Study on Violence Against Children (UNVC, 2006), “Children around the world experience hitting, kicking, shaking, beating, bites, burns, strangulation, poisoning and suffocation by members of their family.  In extreme cases this violence can result in a child’s disability, or in severe physical injury” (UNVC, 2006: 52).

Surveys suggest that physical violence against children in the home is widespread in all regions of the world.  A survey of students aged 11 to 18 in the Kurdistan Province of Iran, for example, found that 38.5 per cent reported experiences of physical violence at home that had caused physical injury ranging from mild to severe (UNVC, 2006: 52).  A study of physical victimisation of children in the Republic of Korea found that kicking, biting, choking and beating by parents are common, with a high risk of physical injury – and for a small proportion, disability.  However, physical abuse does not only take place in the home.  It can also take place in schools and other educational establishments, and in care and justice institutions.  

The Study notes that while there may be no outwardly visible sign of injury, “in all instances, ...physical violence has a negative impact on a child’s psychological health and development” (UNVC, 2006: 53).  People who were physically abused as children may have problems with personal relationships and they may be more likely to treat their own children abusively.

Physical abuse may take the form of physical punishment (corporal punishment), or torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” 

Article 37 requires State Parties to ensure that “no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”


What can be done about it?

The African Network for Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) suggests a number of ways in which abuse in general might be prevented, including: 

  • Creating awareness on child rights, laws that affect them and other issues which affect children;
  • Creating an environment that encourages dialogue between children, parents, guardians, caregivers, teachers and communities;
  • Providing integrated family life education in schools;
  • Formulating a national child protection policy;
  • Creating and strengthening child friendly laws, policies and systems;
  • Empowering and strengthening families socio-economically;
  • Government to legislate laws that provide for deterrent punishment for child abusers;
  • Encouraging children to report abuses and exploitations perpetrated against them;
  • Encouraging members of the society to take increased responsibility in reporting child abuse, exploitation and gender based violence incidences;

Read more here.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child raises concerns about physical abuse in its recommendations to States.  For example, in 2008, it noted the increase in rates of abuse in Bulgaria and that “only a negligible number of cases reaches the courts.”  In the same year, it noted that in Bhutan “cases of abuse and violence remain underreported and physical and psychological recovery measures for victims are lacking.”  In 2009, the Committee noted the “high rate of domestic violence against children, which is often considered as an educative measure” in Bolivia.

Read the Committee's General Comment 13 on freedom from all forms of violence here.

You can read about the possible signs of physical abuse on the website of the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (UK)).  Access it here.

For more resources on physical abuse, click here



UN Study on Violence Against Children, (UNVC) (2006), at: