Frequently Asked Questions

Child Abuse

How is child abuse defined?

Child abuse refers to an act committed by a parent, caregiver or person in a position of trust that is not accidental and that harms or threatens to harm a child's physical health, mental health or welfare. This includes individuals that may not care for the child on a daily basis.

What are the basic types of child abuse?
The four basic types of child abuse are physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

Physical abuse occurs when an adult injures a child and it is not an accident. It can include:

  • Assault
  • Shaking or slapping
  • Burning or scalding
  • Kicking
  • Strangling

Neglect is any maltreatment or negligence that harms a child's health, welfare or safety. It can include physical, emotional or educational neglect through such actions as:

  • Abandonment
  • Refusal to seek treatment for illness
  • Inadequate supervision
  • Health hazards in the home
  • Ignoring a child's need for contact, affirmation and stimulation
  • Providing inadequate emotional nurturance
  • Knowingly permitting chronic truancy
  • Keeping a child home from school repeatedly without cause
  • Failing to enrol a child in school (or home school)

Emotional abusedeeply affects a child's self-esteem by submitting him/her to verbal assault or emotional cruelty. It does not always involve visible injuries. It can include:

  • Close confinement, such as being shut in a closet
  • Inadequate nurturance
  • Extreme discipline
  • Knowingly permitting such behavior as drug or alcohol abuse

Sexual abuse involves sexual contact between a child or teenager and an adult or significantly older, more powerful person. Children are not developmentally capable of understanding or resisting sexual contact and may be psychologically and socially dependent upon the offender. In addition to sexual contact, abuse can include other exploitive behaviors such as:

  • Inappropriate verbal stimulation of a child or teenager
  • Taking or showing sexually explicit photographs of or to a child or teenager
  • Exposing a child or teenager to pornography or adult sexual activity.
What are some possible indicators of child abuse or neglect?

Possible indicators of abuse are listed below, but do not necessarily constitute proof that a child is being abused. They should serve as warning signs to look further, ask questions or seek assistance in determining whether or not a child needs help. Trust your instinct if you think a family or individual is in trouble. Clergy and other ministers are in a key position with families to sense when something is wrong and to speak honestly. Some of the possible indicators of child abuse and neglect are:

  • Self-destructive and destructive behavior
  • Fractures, lacerations, bruises that cannot be explained or explanations which are improbable given a child's developmental stage
  • Failure to thrive
  • Depression, passivity
  • Hyperactive/disruptive behavior
  • Sexualized behavior or precocious knowledge of explicit sexual behavior, pseudo-maturity
  • Running away, promiscuous behavior
  • Alcohol or drug abuse, other self-destructive behavior, e.g., eating disorders
What should you do if you suspect child abuse?

The goals of any effective response to suspected abuse are to:

  • Protect the child from further abuse
  • Stop the offender's abuse
  • Heal the victim's brokenness
  • Restore the family, or if not possible, help victims to mourn the loss of family relationships

Anyone may report suspected child abuse and will not be liable for an unfounded report if it is made in good faith. In every state and province, persons in helping professions teachers, doctors, counselors, police officers, social workers, health professionals are legally mandated to report a suspicion of child abuse or neglect to child abuse authorities.

In some U.S. states, ordained ministers, priests and rabbis are exempt from this statutory requirement. People serving in a pastoral role, however, are strongly encouraged to report suspected child abuse regardless of statutory requirements. In Canada, most provinces require clergy to report, and some denominations in Canada require their clergy to report regardless of civil mandates. Learn the specifics of the law by calling the state or provincial attorney general's office.

Religious leaders should not attempt to gather detailed evidence from the person who discloses. The children's protective services agency will investigate and determine the level of risk to the child.

What if you receive information in confidence that causes you to suspect child abuse?

It is generally expected that personal matters divulged to clergy are held in confidence, but a moral obligation to report exists when there is the possibility of harm to a child. Confidentiality means holding information in trust and sharing it only if someone is being harmed and needs help. Information can usually be held in confidence unless there is suspicion that someone is being hurt or abused, is in danger of injury or the offender presents a risk to other children.

In some traditions, the sanctity of the confessional must be maintained, but there are pastoral resources that can be brought to bear to protect a child or teenager. Reporting may result in effective intervention for the abuser in addition to helping the victim. The behaviour of offenders escalates over time if it is not stopped. Abusers need psychological treatment along with spiritual guidance. It is always advisable to invite/encourage a confessing abuser to report him/herself to the authorities in the presence of the pastoral/religious leader. Repentance, conversion, prayer and spiritual counsel can help the abuser, but outside intervention must also occur in order to hold the perpetrator accountable for his/her actions.


What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that recognizes the human rights of children, defined as persons up to the age of 18 years. The Convention establishes in international law that States Parties must ensure that all children—without discrimination in any form—benefit from special protection measures and assistance; have access to services such as education and health care; can develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential; grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding; and are informed about and participate in, achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.

How was it decided what should go into the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

The standards in the Convention on the Rights of the Child were negotiated by governments, non-governmental organizations, human rights advocates, lawyers, health specialists, social workers, educators, child development experts and religious leaders from all over the world, over a 10-year period. The result is a consensus document that takes into account the importance of tradition and cultural values for the protection and harmonious development of the child. It reflects the principal legal systems of the world and acknowledges the specific needs of developing countries.

How does the Convention on the Rights of the Child protect children's rights?

It constitutes a common reference against which progress in meeting human rights standards for children can be assessed and results compared. Having agreed to meet the standards in the Convention, governments are obliged to bring their legislation, policy and practice into accordance with the standards in the Convention; to transform the standards into reality for all children; and to abstain from any action that may preclude the enjoyment of those rights or violate them. Governments are required to report periodically to a committee of independent experts on their progress to achieve all the rights.

How does the international community monitor and support progress on the implementation of the Convention?

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, an internationally elected body of independent experts that sits in Geneva to monitor the Convention's implementation, requires governments that have ratified the Convention to submit regular reports on the status of children's rights in their countries. The Committee reviews and comments on these reports and encourages States to take special measures and to develop special institutions for the promotion and protection of children's rights. Where necessary, the Committee calls for international assistance from other governments and technical assistance from organizations like UNICEF. For more information, see the ‘Implementation’ page under ‘Using the Convention for Children’.

What is the new vision of the child in the Convention?

The Convention provides a universal set of standards to be adhered to by all countries. It reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and a member of a family and a community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. Recognizing children's rights in this way firmly sets a focus on the whole child. Previously seen as negotiable, the child's needs have become legally binding rights. No longer the passive recipient of benefits, the child has become the subject or holder of rights.

How is the Convention special?

The Convention:

  1. Is in force in virtually the entire community of nations, thus providing a common ethical and legal framework to develop an agenda for children. At the same time, it constitutes a common reference against which progress may be assessed.
  2. Was the first time a formal commitment was made to ensure the realization of human rights and monitor progress on the situation of children.
  3. Indicates that children's rights are human rights. Children's rights are not special rights, but rather the fundamental rights inherent to the human dignity of all people, including children. Children's rights can no longer be perceived as an option, as a question of favour or kindness to children or as an expression of charity. They generate obligations and responsibilities that we all must honour and respect.
  4. Was even accepted by non-state entities. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), a rebel movement in Southern Sudan, is one such example.
  5. Is a reference for many organizations working with and for children—including NGOs and organizations within the UN system.
  6. Reaffirms that all rights are important and essential for the full development of the child and that addressing each and every child is important.
  7. Reaffirms the notion of State accountability for the realization of human rights and the values of transparency and public scrutiny that are associated with it.
  8. Promotes an international system of solidarity designed to achieve the realization of children's rights. Using the Convention's reporting process as a reference, donor countries are required to provide assistance in areas where particular needs have been identified; recipient countries are required to direct overseas development assistance (ODA) to that end too.
  9. Highlights and defends the family's role in children's lives.
How does the Convention on the Rights of the Child define a child?

The Convention defines a "child" as a person below the age of 18, unless the relevant laws recognize an earlier age of majority. In some cases, States are obliged to be consistent in defining benchmark ages—such as the age for admission into employment and completion of compulsory education; but in other cases the Convention is unequivocal in setting an upper limit—such as prohibiting life imprisonment or capital punishment for those under 18 years of age.

How many countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

More countries have ratified the Convention than any other human rights treaty in history—192 countries had become State Parties to the Convention as of November 2005.

Who has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and why?

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. Only two countries, Somalia and the United States, have not ratified this celebrated agreement. Somalia is currently unable to proceed to ratification as it has no recognized government. By signing the Convention, the United States has signalled its intention to ratify—but has yet to do so. As in many other nations, the United States undertakes an extensive examination and scrutiny of treaties before proceeding to ratify. This examination, which includes an evaluation of the degree of compliance with existing law and practice in the country at state and federal levels, can take several years—or even longer if the treaty is portrayed as being controversial or if the process is politicized. Moreover, the US Government typically will consider only one human rights treaty at a time. Currently, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is cited as the nation's top priority among human rights treaties.