Child Neglect and Abandonment

When one hears the phrase “child abuse”, physical, emotional and sexual abuse are the first kinds that come to mind. However, there is another that many do not consider as a form of child abuse- that is ‘neglect and abandonment’.


Neglect is a unique trauma because children and in some cases adults, are susceptible to it. The trauma occurs when there is a failure to provide the necessary care, aid or guidance to children and adults by those responsible for their care. In order for one to experience neglect, a child (or adult) must be reliant on the caregiver for their physical and emotional well-being.

In 2014, Child Welfare SA estimated that 3500 babies were abandoned in South Africa in 2010. In 2009, 45% of children were reportedly murdered through instances of child abuse and neglect. Due to the nature of the child maltreatment, there is no detailed statistics on the actual number of child abandonment cases, but the authorities believe that the numbers have increased exponentially over the past decade.

Passive neglect’ is recognised by a caregiver “withholding or failure to provide the necessities of life”. ‘Wilful deprivation’ is when a caregiver denies an individual assistance and thereby exposes them to the risk of physical, mental or emotional harm. Professionals recognise four main types of neglect:

  • Physical: children need basic necessities like everyone else. They are reliant on their parent/s or caregiver to provide these necessities. When necessities such as adequate housing, clothing and nutritious food are not provided, this is considered neglect or that the parent has abandoned their child.

  • Educational: children have a right to basic education. If a caregiver fails to provide their child adequate schooling or home schooling, this is considered neglect.

  • Emotional: this is also known as psychological neglect. It is characterised by the caregivers lack, inability or failure to provide warmth, nurturance, encouragement and support. Teasing, verbally abusing, ignoring, withholding love, rejecting or isolating is also forms of emotional maltreatment.

  • Medical: this is failure to provide a child with the appropriate health care and therefore placing the child at risk for being disabled, disfigured or dying.

The Medical Research Council reported that “some of the events such as infanticide or abandonment generally occurred before the age of one year, but others such as neglect and sexual abuse spanned the full seventeen years of childhood”.

Many families are struggling to take care of their children. Neglect and abandonment are horrors that occur every day, but it is taboo in many households and the children will often keep it a secret in order to keep their families intact. Children are our countries treasure. In the words of Kenny Guinn, “I believe the best service to the child is the service closest to the child, and children who are victims of neglect, abuse, or abandonment must not also be victims of bureaucracy. They deserve our devoted attention, not our divided attention.

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