Thu | Jul 18, 2019

Laws of Eve | Signs and symptoms of child abuse

Published:Monday | April 8, 2019 | 12:15 AM

In last week’s article, I explained the four different types of child abuse, namely, physical, sexual, emotional and neglect. As promised, this week’s article will help us to detect the signs of child abuse.

The word of caution is that, although we may see signs and symptoms of abuse, they may not mean that a child is actually being abused.

Physical abuse signs include:

- Injuries, such as bruises, fractures, abdominal or head injuries, or burns that cannot be explained.

- Injuries that don’t match the given explanation.

- Shying away from touch, flinching at sudden movements, or being afraid to go home.

- Unexplained changes in the child’s body or behaviour, or regression to earlier developmental stages.

- Appearing to be afraid of adults.

- Frequent headaches or stomach aches with no medical cause.

Sexual abuse signs and symptoms include:

- Sexual behaviour or knowledge that’s inappropriate for the child’s age.

- Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection.

- Blood in the child’s underwear.

- Statements that he or she was sexually abused.

- Inappropriate sexual contact with other children.

- Refusal to change for physical activities (e.g., PE class) or refusal to participate in physical activities.

- Fear of being alone with adults, including a family member, especially of a particular gender.

- Nightmares or bed-wetting.

- Sudden changes in appetite.

Emotional abuse signs include:

- Developmental delays.

- Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem.

- Social withdrawal or a loss of interest or enthusiasm.

- Lack of attachment to parents.

- Behavioural changes.

- Speech disorders.

- Substance abuse.

- Excessively withdrawn, fearful or anxious about doing something wrong.

- Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantrums).

- Extremely passive or aggressive behaviour.

Signs of neglect include:

- Poor growth or weight.

- Poor hygiene.

- Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs.

- Theft of food or money.

- Hiding food for later.

- Frequent absenteeism from school.

- Being frequently unsupervised, left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.

- Lacking medical or dental care.

These lists are by no means exhaustive, but should assist us to better safeguard the interests of all of our children.

- Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner, mediator and arbitrator in the firm of Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to or