The greater a child’s terror, the harder it becomes to develop a strong and healthy sense of self

Written by Fazrina Faizer

How child abuse will affect a child

“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun, not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul,” says Dave Pelzer in his book ‘A Child called “lt”‘. Unfortunately the concern of child abuse is raising worldwide. The World Health Organization reports that nearly 3 out of 4 children or 300 million children aged between 2-4 years suffer regular physical punishment and/or psychological violence at the hands of their caregivers. Apart from what’s reported in the media, many of us are unaware what child abuse really is. It is defined as when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. This can take many different forms including physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect which are usually found in combination than alone. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1 billion children globally are found to have been abused physically, sexually or emotionally in 2019.

What’s more depressing is that the fact that although the stories of victims attract massive interest and empathy, the society and the relevant sectors fail to reveal the factors which influence the origin and the consequences of the abuse. The consequences of child abuse of any form can be devastating. The impact and recurrent exposure can affect a child resulting in short and long term effects on physical, psychological, cognitive and behavioural development. The outcome for each child may vary widely and are affected by a combination of factors such as the child’s age and developmental status, the form, frequency, duration and the severity of the abuse and the relationship between the child and the abuser. Several studies suggest that the effects are gender specific. For example females often internalise the abuse resulting in self identity crisis while males have been commonly found to externalise the abuse resulting in self destructive behaviour. The victims of child abuse cope and respond in different ways and their response can change over time. For some children the psychological harm can be severe and more enduring than the physical injuries. It’s not always easy to spot an abused child. They may show some warning signs physically, emotionally and behaviourally.

Focusing on outcomes of each form of abuse, physical abuse is one of the most common forms. It is catastrophic when a person that a child leans on for protection and safety, becomes perilous. Children who’ve been physically abused will often have broken bones, fractures, scratches, abdominal injuries, burns and other unexplained injuries. Some of these injuries can be fatal or life threatening. Other physical impacts include functional limitations, malnutrition, vision problems, arthritis, migraine headaches and chronic fatigue syndrome. Some children even may develop traumatic stress reactions. These victims may struggle in developing relationships with authoritative figures. Physically abused children often have behavioural problems, they seem to always be on high alert, avoid any kind of physical contact, wear clothing to cover injuries. These children are more likely to have lost their self-confidence and they’re more anxious and fearful rather than being numb and withdrawn.

Child neglect is another frequent form of abuse which can have tremendous impacts on physical, mental and emotional development of a child. The effects of neglect include poor growth or being overweight, poor hygiene, eating more than usual or saving food for later, lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs, poor records of school attendance, medical issues that go untreated. Eventually there are high chances that these children will be stigmatized and ignored by the society as well.

Sexual abuse has numerous potential consequences with adverse effects on health and education. Victims can face immediate psychological consequences as well as chronic effects that can impact them throughout their development. Immediate effects include shock, fear, anxiety, guilt, denial, grief, isolation and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorders. Long term effects include depression and suicide attempts, dissociative patterns, sexual problems and eating disorders. One of the most profound effects is the damaging impact it can have on the ability to form and maintain close loving relationships. Relationships can remind the victims of the abuse and there maybe emotional barriers that make it difficult for them to talk to others. Indeed victims may show signs of abuse including physical signs such as signs of trauma in genital area and unexplained bleeding and bruises. Excessive knowledge about sexual topics, exhibiting unusual behaviour of not wanting to be left alone with certain people, inappropriate sexual behaviour, regressive and overly compliant behaviour can be taken as behavioural signs. Emotional impacts of sexual abuse include change in personalities, excessive worry, loss of self-confidence and also loss of interest in social activities.

Emotional abuse is usually a pattern of behaviour that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. Consequences include constant worry about doing something wrong, poor performance in school, speech problems or delay in learning and emotional development, extreme behaviour that is being too obedient or too demanding, low self-esteem, depression and loss of interest in family and friends.

Common severe impacts of any kind of abuse include development of addictions such as alcohol and other drug abuse, future perpetration of abuse, juvenile delinquency leading to adult criminality and also self-destructive behaviour leading to depression and suicide attempts. Repressed memories are another long term effect of abuse.

Impacts are usually not exhibited alone by an abused child but when a child shows a combination of the effects, there’s a high chance that the child is being abused or a victim of some kind of abuse.

The abuse may be committed behind closed doors but they should never be swept under the carpet. We must question ourselves, “How far did we actually come as humans?”, if we continue to keep quiet regarding this matter. At times we’re left to wonder, “Did I do enough to prevent this?” The question is left to you and me to join hands in the march to tackle this menace.

Written by Fazrina Faizer


  • VISTAS online- American Counselling Association-Article 19 by Melissa Hall and Joshua Hall
  • The National Academic Press; Understanding child abuse and neglect(1993)
  • Children Welfare information Gateway; Long term consequences of child abuse and neglect: factsheet April 2019
  • Impact of child abuse education on Parent’s self-efficacy; An experimental study by Sabina Balkaran (2015)
  • WHO; Fact sheet: Child maltreatment

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