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Child abuse - physical


Physical child abuse is a serious problem. Here are some facts:

  • A report of child abuse happens every 10 seconds.
  • Five children die each day from child abuse. Most children who die from abuse are under 3 years old.
  • Most children are abused at home or by someone they know. They often love this person, or are afraid of them, so they do not tell anyone.
  • Child abuse can happen to a child of any race, religion, or economic status.


Learn about the signs of child abuse. Recognize when a child might be abused. Get early help for abused children.

If you think a child is being abused, contact a health care provider, the police, or child protective services in your city, county or state.

  • Call 911 for any child in immediate danger because of abuse or neglect.
  • You can also call Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). Crisis counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Interpreters are available to help in 170 languages. The counselor on the phone can help you figure out what steps to take next. All calls are anonymous and confidential.

Other types of child abuse are:


Physical child abuse is when a person physically hurts a child. The abuse is not an accident. Here are some examples of physical child abuse:

  • Hitting and beating a child
  • Hitting a child with an object, such as a belt or a stick
  • Kicking a child
  • Burning a child with hot water, a cigarette, or an iron
  • Holding a child under water
  • Tying up a child
  • Severely shaking a baby

Alternative Names

Battered child syndrome; Physical abuse - children



Signs of physical abuse in a child include:

  • Sudden change in behavior or school performance
  • Alertness, watching for something bad to happen
  • Acting out behavior
  • Leaving home early, going home late, and not wanting to go home
  • Fear when approached by adults

Other signs include unexplained injuries or a strange explanation of injuries, such as:

  • Black eyes
  • Broken bones that cannot be explained. For example, infants who do not crawl or walk usually do not have broken bones.
  • Bruise marks shaped like hands, fingers, or objects (such as a belt)
  • Bruises that cannot be explained by usual child activities
  • Bulging fontanelle (soft spot) or separated sutures in an infant's skull
  • Burn marks, such as cigarette burns
  • Choke marks around the neck
  • Circular marks around the wrists or ankles from twisting or being tied up
  • Human bite marks
  • Lash marks
  • Unexplained unconsciousness in an infant

Warning signs that an adult that may be abusing a child:

  • Cannot explain or gives strange explanations for a child's injuries
  • Talks about the child in a negative way
  • Uses harsh discipline
  • Was abused as a child
  • Alcohol or drug problems
  • Emotional problems or mental illness
  • High stress
  • Does not look after the child's hygiene or care
  • Does not seem to love or have concern for the child



The child may need medical treatment and counseling. Abused children can be seriously hurt. Children may also have emotional problems.

Counseling and support groups are available for children and for abusive parents who want to get help.

There are state and other government departments or agencies that are responsible for the protection of children younger than age 18. Child protection agencies usually make a decision whether the child should go into foster care or can return home. Child protection agencies generally make every effort to reunite families when possible. The system varies from state to state, but usually involves a family court or a court that handles child abuse cases.


Berkowitz CD, Stewart ST. Child maltreatment. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 66.

Dubowitz H, Lane WG. Abused and neglected children. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 37.

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