WHO reviews fact sheet on child maltreatment

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reviewed its fact sheet on child maltreatment.

Background Information:

Child maltreatment is the abuse and neglect that happens to children under 18 years of age.

It includes all types of

  • physical and/or emotional ill-treatment,
  • sexual abuse,
  • neglect,
  • negligence and
  • commercial or other exploitation,

which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s

  • health,
  • survival,
  • development or
  • dignity

in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.

Exposure to intimate partner violence is also sometimes included as a form of child maltreatment.

Child maltreatment causes stress that is associated with disruption in early brain development. Extreme stress can impair the development of the nervous and immune systems.

Key Messages:

A quarter of all adults report having been physically abused as children.

1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child.

Additionally, many children are subject to emotional abuse (sometimes referred to as psychological abuse) and to neglect.

In armed conflict and refugee settings, girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation and abuse by combatants, security forces, members of their communities, aid workers and others.

As adults, maltreated children are at increased risk for behavioural, physical and mental health problems such as:

  • perpetrating or being a victim of violence
  • depression
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • high-risk sexual behaviours
  • unintended pregnancy
  • alcohol and drug misuse.

Via these behavioural and mental health consequences, maltreatment can contribute to heart disease, cancer, suicide and sexually transmitted infections.

Risk factors for child maltreatment


  • being either under four years old or an adolescent
  • being unwanted, or failing to fulfil the expectations of parents
  • having special needs, crying persistently or having abnormal physical features.

Parent or caregiver

  • difficulty bonding with a newborn
  • not nurturing the child
  • having been maltreated themselves as a child
  • lacking awareness of child development or having unrealistic expectations
  • misusing alcohol or drugs, including during pregnancy
  • being involved in criminal activity
  • experiencing financial difficulties.


  • physical, developmental or mental health problems of a family member
  • family breakdown or violence between other family members
  • being isolated in the community or lacking a support network
  • a breakdown of support in child rearing from the extended family.

Community and societal factors

  • gender and social inequality;
  • lack of adequate housing or services to support families and institutions;
  • high levels of unemployment or poverty;
  • the easy availability of alcohol and drugs;
  • inadequate policies and programmes to prevent child maltreatment, child pornography, child prostitution and child labour;
  • social and cultural norms that promote or glorify violence towards others, support the use of corporal punishment, demand rigid gender roles, or diminish the status of the child in parent–child relationships;
  • social, economic, health and education policies that lead to poor living standards, or to socioeconomic inequality or instability.


  • Programmes to prevent child sexual abuse. These are usually delivered in schools and teach children about:
    • body ownership
    • the difference between good and bad touch
    • how to recognize abusive situations
    • how to say “no”
    • how to disclose abuse to a trusted adult.
  • Visits by nurses to parents and children in their homes to provide support, education, and information;
  • Parent education, usually delivered in groups, to improve child-rearing skills, increase knowledge of child development, and encourage positive child management strategies; and
  • Multi-component interventions, which typically include support and education of parents, pre-school education, and child care.

Useful Links:

Link to the fact sheet:


Link to WHO guide on Preventing child maltreatment:

Click to access 9241594365_eng.pdf

Link to child abuse video “Komal”:


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