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Question n°06

How common is child abuse in Canada?

Child abuse is a common problem in Canada.

In the past ten years more and more people are reporting when they think a child is being abused or neglected. Also, police and child protection agencies are finding more children than ever who need protecting. Still, it is estimated that less than one in ten child abuse cases is ever reported to authorities.

It is hard to find reliable Canadian statistics on child abuse. The National Incidence Study on Child Abuse and Neglect (Health Canada) is currently underway. It will estimate the nature and extent of child abuse and neglect that has been reported.

Other groups have done studies over the years. The results from some of them are below. When viewed together they suggest just how common a problem child abuse is.

Child protection

  • In 1992, child protection authorities put about 40,000 Canadian children into foster care or other settings away from their home. In many of these cases, abuse was a factor.
  • In Ontario in 1993, Children’s Aid Society investigated over 13,000 cases of child physical abuse. This is compared to 3,546 ten years earlier.
  • Children 3 years old or younger are most often investigated for neglect. Children 12 to 15 years old are most often investigated for physical abuse.

Information on abusers

  • In a national study, abused women reported that their partners had also abused their children:
    • physically – 26% of the time
    • psychologically – 48% of the time
    • sexually – 7% of the time
  • Another study reported that almost all sexual abusers of both boys and girls are heterosexual males.
  • Children know their abuser in over eight out of ten cases. More than four out of ten are fathers or father figures.
  • More than one in four lesbian, gay and bisexual youth go through violence at home after they tell their family about their sexuality.

Children with disabilities

  • Almost half the time that children with disabilities are abused, it is by someone they know through having a disability.
  • One study found that more than half of boys who are deaf have been sexually abused.
  • It is estimated that 5-10% of disabilities result from severe neglect. Violence is often involved as well.

Witnessing abuse

  • Over three in ten children who witness abuse are also physically abused themselves.
  • Children witness between 40 - 80% of assaults on their mothers.

No matter how common it is, no child should have to deal with abuse of any kind.

Where can I go for help or information?


Child and Family Services Annual Statistical Report 1992-93 to 1994-95

Jaffe, P., Wolfe, D., & Wilson, S.K. Children of Battered Women, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1990.

MacLeod, L. Battered But Not Beaten: Preventing Wife Battering in Canada (Ottawa: The Canadian Advisory Counsel on the Status of Women, 1987), 32.

Make a Difference: How to respond to child witnesses of woman abuse. Produced by the Children’s Subcommittee of the London Coordinating Committee to End Woman Abuse (undated)

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence. Child Welfare in Canada: The Role of Provincial and Territorial Authorities in Cases of Child Abuse, 1994.

Sobsey, D. (1995) "Violence". Encyclopedia of Disability and Rehabilitation, MacMillan Publishing, USA.

Sobsey, D., and Doe, T. (1991) "Patterns of Sexual Abuse and Assault". Journal of Sexuality and Disability, 9, no.3: 243-259.

Sullivan, P.M.; Vernon, M.; and Scanlan, J.M. (1987) "Sexual Abuse of Deaf Youth". American Annals of the Deaf, 32, no.4: 256-262.

Tower, C.C. Secret Scars: A Guide for Survivors of Child Abuse. New York: Viking/Penguin, 1988.

This question was prepared for the Canadian Health Network by Education Wife Assault and the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence.
Created: April 1999


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