Integral Human Development

Raising awareness towards children protection

Child abuse has occurred, silently, throughout time. Over the centuries, reports of exploitation of minors and infanticide have been discovered, with a progressive evolution of attitudes and behaviors towards children. It was only in the 18th century that the concept of childhood emerged, with greater emphasis from the 20th century onwards, through studies aimed at the age group in question.

Currently, a deep concern is recognized in what is considered a serious offense against fundamental rights, and in the recognition of the child as a subject with rights. In this way, the construction of a more dignifying and respectful Humanity becomes imperative, of what is the phase of greatest vulnerability of the human being: being a Child.

The need for a leap forward, in the quality of guaranteeing their basic rights, led to the development of a variety of programs and planning, not only in health, but also in education and justice, regarding primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention.

Under this current and insidious problem, recognized by many, lies the need to encourage early detection and a highly competent intervention, in the protection and defense of children. Abuse constitutes a complex and multicausal problem, with serious and irreversible consequences on the child’s physical, cognitive, affective, and social development.

The concept of “mistreatment” is a concept that has undergone mutations, and whose definition differs between different groups and cultures. There are several scholars who have dedicated themselves to delving deeper into its causes, however, this situation is still far from being fully understood. Still, a child will always be a child with their own needs and interests, regardless of the place and culture in which they live and, therefore, the events that call into question or violate their needs and interests constitute mistreatment.

According to Magalhães (2005), abuse refers to “any form of physical and (or) emotional treatment, non-accidental and inappropriate, resulting from dysfunctions and (or) deficiencies in relationships between children or young people and older people, in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust and (or) power. They can manifest themselves through active (physical, emotional, or sexual) or passive behaviors (omission or neglect of care and (or) affection). In the repeated way in which they generally occur, they deprive minors of their rights and freedoms, affecting, in a concrete or potential way, their health, development (physical, psychological, and social) and (or) dignity.” With this definition, the concept of intentionality of the perpetrator’s action is introduced.

Abusive behavior may be induced or provoked, in different contexts, whether within the family, or by other people who live with the minor in any other context, essentially by people who are responsible for their education or care.

Children, specifically the youngest, are those who, due to their immaturity and inability to satisfy their needs on their own, are more dependent and consequently require greater availability and presence of an adult. Because of all this, and their difficulty in managing emotions, in anticipating and avoiding punishment, they become a more vulnerable target, to the possibility of violent methods and behaviors being applied.

The cultural roots of behaviors lead the abuser to consider their actions justifiable. The beliefs and values they learn lead them to believe and act in accordance with the idea of inevitability in the application of physical punishment and severe education.

Nowadays, two categories are distinguished: maltreatment by action (physical abuse, sexual abuse and psychological abuse and Munchausen syndrome by proxy) and maltreatment by omission (physical and psychological neglect). This currently used distinction emphasizes both directly observable physical damage, but also aspects that are part of the invisible sphere, namely psychological and emotional aggression. The permeability of the border between the physical and the emotional is recognized, as physical abuse can have psychological consequences, and vice-versa, with the simultaneous presence of different types of abuse often occurring.

As we know, abuse has a multifactorial cause, which translates into a dysfunction in the caregiver-child-environment system, not only resulting from psychopathology of parents/caregivers, but from high parental stress, caused by a multiplicity of factors, such as: individual characteristics of the child, the family (parents/caregivers) and the environment. Interconnected with each other and in constant interaction, the assessment of each one becomes pertinent, as understanding them will allow us to understand their entire extent as well as their interactional dynamics.

In a situation of fragility and the impossibility of asserting the response to their needs, their rights and claiming their dignity on their own, the child finds himself dependent on the family to do so, and it is up to professionals who work in the area of childhood and youth (health professionals, teachers or other community agents) play a central role in the detection, warning and early assessment of risk and/or dangerous situations for the child or young person. Therefore, there is a need to invest in the quality and effectiveness of action, with the aim of optimizing the process of identification, assessment, and intervention in relation to children or young people who are at risk or vulnerable.

This April, we are raising awareness towards prevention of child abuse and the need for: early action within the family, promotion of a healthy environment that promotes parenting; and an environment that answers to the needs and rights of the child.

Joana Romeiro

Fellow of Postdoctoral Program in Integral Human Development, Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Faculdade de Ciências da Saúde e Enfermagem, Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Health, Lisbon, Portugal. E-mail:;

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joanaromeiro (2024, 21 Abril). Raising awareness towards children protection. Desenvolvimento Humano Integral. Recuperado em 22 de Maio de 2024, de

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