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Physical abuse


Physical abuse is the deliberate causing of hurt to a child causing physical harm.  Physical harm can include a parent/carer fabricating symptoms of, or deliberately inducing, illness in a child.  It can also include peer on peer violence.  Physical Abuse includes some forms of Honour Based Abuse, such as breast flattening/ironing and Female Genital Mutilation.


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990 & 2006) states that children should be protected from physical and mental violence, including physical punishment. However, in England and Northern Ireland, parents are able to use the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ to justify hitting a child (Section 58, Children Act 2004).  These defences cannot be used in cases of causing serious physical harm to a child (Actual Bodily Harm). This defence will be abolished in Scotland in November 2020 and in Wales in 2022.


Peer on peer abuse and violence


Peer-on-peer abuse is any form of physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, and coercive control, exercised between children and within children's relationships (both intimate and non-intimate).

Peer-on-peer abuse can take various forms, including: serious bullying (including cyber-bullying), relationship abuse, domestic violence, child sexual exploitation, youth and serious youth violence, harmful sexual behaviour, and/or gender-based violence.

Some children can experience significant harm beyond their families with harmful relationships online, with peers and in their neighbourhoods and community.  Extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships and a parent’s capacity to protect their child. Assessing harm of children should recognise children are vulnerable to abuse in a range of social contexts.


Fabricated or Induced Illness


Fabricating, or inducing, an illness in a child is usually carried out by the child’s primary caregiver and in three ways; fabricating signs/symptoms of illness, falsifying records or bodily specimens, and/or actually inducing illness by various means.  Fabricated or induced illness of a child can have lasting physical and psychological impacts and children can suffer physical as well as emotional harm.  Fabricated or induced illness of a child requires a multi-agency response, however Consultant Paediatricians take a lead role in evaluating the signs and symptoms to confirm if fabricated or induced illness is present.  Social workers and police assist key health professionals in investigating the reasons for the child’s symptoms and will consider safeguarding arrangements for the child throughout this process. Follow the SET guidance for safeguarding children whose caregivers are suspected of fabricating or inducing illness in the child.