Child neglect and abuse is a serious social issue and crime. It refers to physical and mental abuse of a child by a parent, caregiver etc, leading to actual or potential damage.

The most recent national figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) indicate that during 2015-16 there were 225,487 Australian children suspected of being harmed or at risk of harm from abuse and/or neglect. However, these numbers are considered to be a “conservative estimate” due to the under-reporting caused by things such as the private nature of child abuse and neglect, the difficulty in children disclosing the abuse, as well as lack of evidence. Actual cases of child abuse and neglect may be significantly higher.

Broken down, the number of emotional abuse (39%) and neglect (28%) make over 67% of all the substantiations recorded in that period


A Sydney couple had their three children taken away from them when police found their 20 month old girl to be severely malnourished and suffering from rickets after being on a strict vegan diet. The couple avoided jail over this appalling neglect of their child, though the judge criticised their behaviour as “reckless” and questioned their “untruthful” statements to authorities about their daughter’s health.

At Sydney’s Downing Centre Court, the couple was initially sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, however, instead of going to gaol they will now be serving the sentence in the form of an Intensive Correction Order (ICO). As one of the conditions of the ICO, they will both undertake 300 hours of community service.

Their baby daughter weighed just 4.89kg, looked like a three-month-old and had no teeth when she was taken into care. The judge scolded the couple, commenting that “the abandonment of parental responsibility cannot be excused”. The baby had been, for months, fed a strict daily vegan diet of just oats, bread and some vegetables. She had never received medical attention since the day she was born.

When subjected to medical examinations she was found to be malnourished. The poor diet had stunted her growth and she had thinner bones and fewer motor skills than the average child her age. She was also developmentally impaired.

The girl is now in the care of a relative. While she has recovered from the malnutrition and weighs more than 12kg, her future development remains in doubt.


According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies  “Child maltreatment refers to any non-accidental behaviour by parents, caregivers, other adults or older adolescents that is outside the norms of conduct and entails a substantial risk of causing physical or emotional harm to a child or young person.”

There are 5 main types of child abuse:

  • Physical;
  • Sexual;
  • Exposure to family violence;
  • Emotional maltreatment; and
  • Emotional or psychological abuse.


This kind of abuse is defined by the Australian Institute of Family Studies  as the “inappropriate verbal or symbolic acts,” of commission or omission, by a parent or by a caregiver towards a child. This could include things like inadequate physical nurturing or emotional availability.


Neglect is the failure by a parent or caregiver to provide a child (where they are practically able to do so) with the conditions that are “essential for their physical and emotional development and wellbeing”.


Section 227 of the Children And Young Persons (Care And Protection) Act 1998 provides that:

a person who intentionally takes action that has resulted in or appears likely to result in the physical injury or sexual abuse of a child or young person, or a child or young person suffering emotional or psychological harm of such a kind that the emotional or intellectual development of the child or young person is, or is likely to be, significantly damaged, or the physical development or health of a child or young person being significantly harmed, is guilty of an offence”.

The maximum penalty prescribed by the section is 200 penalty units, or imprisonment for 2 years, or both.


From 31 August 2018, amendments to the Crimes Act 1900​ commenced to introduce new offences of concealing a child abuse offence (section 316A) and failing to remove the risk that a worker will commit a child abuse offence (section 43B). The new offences are part of a series of reforms aimed​ to strengthen child abuse laws in NSW, based on the Royal Commission’s Criminal Justice Report.

If you or someone you know has been charged with these offences, come talk to us at National Criminal Lawyers.

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