Child Abuse Law & Legal Definition


Child abuse encompasses physical child abuse, sexual child abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, Shaken Baby Syndrome, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Although the statutes governing juvenile or family court and the mandatory reporting of child maltreatment are the primary laws that protect abused and neglected children, the majority of States are moving toward greater protection of children by specifically including child victims in their domestic violence definitions.

The majority of states require that a special relationship exist between the child victim and the abuser. For example, some states include a minor child of a household member when the defendant is an adult household member, while others include a child of a spouse, a child of a respondent, or any child of a party. A few states extend protection to any child residing in the household. Certain jurisdictions also specifically include foster children, stepchildren, and grandchildren. Many jurisdictions just specify that children are covered. Although not explicitly listing children as persons intended to be protected, some additional states cover household members related by blood or marriage, persons residing in the same household, and persons living in the same domicile.

Domestic violence definitions also identify the prohibited abusive conduct committed toward children. Such behavior usually includes physical, sexual, and emotional attacks against a child. It may also involve stalking, threatening, harassing and placing a child in fear of physical harm. Many states, however, do not specify the amount or extent of violence required by the perpetrator. Some state statutes provide that a single act of domestic violence can suffice.

A few states also provide exemptions for certain acts or omissions in their definitions of domestic violence. For example, in several jurisdictions, corporal discipline of a child by a parent or guardian for disciplinary purposes does not constitute domestic violence when the discipline is reasonable.

Federal legislation provides a foundation for states by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), (42 U.S.C.A. §5106g), as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:

* Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or

* An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

Within the minimum standards set by CAPTA, each state is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect. Most states recognize four major types of maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse.

The following is an example of a Federal Statute defining Child Abuse:

According to 42 USCS § 5119c(3) [Title 42. The Public Health and Welfare; Chapter 67. Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform; Child Abuse Crime Information and Background Checks] the term "child abuse crime" means “a crime committed under any law of a State that involves the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, negligent treatment, or maltreatment of a child by any person.”