Definitions of Abuse & Related Terminology


A child is anyone under the age of 18, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (see Appendix C) and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (see Appendix B). For the purposes of safeguarding at AISJ, a child also refers to any person enrolled at AISJ as a student, even if that individual is over the age of 18.

Child maltreatment (abuse & neglect)

Child maltreatment, often referred to as abuse and neglect, encompasses all forms of physical and emotional maltreatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or possible harm to the child’s health, development or self-worth (WHO, 2017). AISJ believes that specific cases of discrimination, harassment, bullying, and self-induced injury (self-harm) can also result in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, development or dignity, and recognizes that there may be incidences when such actions are covered under the AISJ Safeguarding Policies and Procedures. 

Emotional (Psychological) Abuse

Emotional abuse is the maltreatment of a child which results in impaired psychological growth and development. This type of maltreatment is often manifested through words, actions, and/or deliberate indifference, and can involve rejection, isolation, belittlement, domination, and frequent criticism of the child. Children who suffer emotional abuse often, but not always, suffer other forms of abuse.  See Appendix E for Recognizing Indicators of Abuse and Neglect.

Under Article 19, UNCRC, examples of emotional child abuse include but are not limited to:

  • All forms of persistent harmful interaction with the child, such as conveying to children that they are worthless, unloved, unwanted;

  • Scaring, terrorizing or threatening children;

  • Using verbiage to insult, name-call, humiliate, belittle, and ridicule a child;

  • Placing a child in solitary confinement, isolation or degrading conditions of punishment;

  • Frequent exposure of a child to family violence;

  • Psychological bullying or hazing via social media. 

(United Nations Human Rights, 2018)

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse occurs when there is a physical use of force against a child, resulting in harm and injury to the child. It includes, but is not limited to, hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, strangling, scalding, burning, poisoning, suffocating. In some cases, corporal punishment or the use of a physical means of discipline may meet the criteria of physical abuse. In South Africa, the Children's Act, defines physical abuse as an act or threat of physical violence intended to cause physical pain, injury, suffering or bodily harm (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development). See Appendix E for Recognizing Indicators of Abuse and Neglect. 

Discipline or Punishment? 

Discipline for children involves training and helping them develop judgement, a sense of boundaries, self-control, self-sufficiency and positive social conduct. Discipline is frequently confused with punishment, particularly by caregivers who use corporal punishment in an attempt to correct and change children’s behaviour. There are several differences between discipline and punishment. 

Positive strategies of discipline recognize children’s individual worth. They aim to strengthen children’s belief in themselves and their ability to behave appropriately, and to build positive relationships.  

On the other hand, punishment involving either physical or emotional measures often reflects the caregiver’s anger or desperation, rather than a thought-out strategy intended to encourage the child to understand expectations of behaviour. Such punishment uses external controls and involves power and dominance. It is also frequently not tailored to the child’s age and developmental level. 

Corporal punishment entails the use of physical force. It has been commonly used in many societies in the past and the exact form it takes varies according to culture and religion. Research has shown, though, that it is not effective in promoting the desired change in behaviour in any lasting way. The behavioural and emotional consequences of corporal punishment vary according to how frequently and how severely the punishment is applied, as well as to the age, developmental state, vulnerability and resilience of the child. Corporal punishment can cause relationships to break down. It serves to humiliate children and can lead to physical injury and serious impairment in development. 

All children need discipline and it is best if children can be supported in developing their own self-discipline. An approach to discipline should be encouraged that uses alternatives to corporal punishment. These include such methods as distraction and redirection, the fixing of a cooling-off period, the setting of rules and limits appropriate to the child’s age and developmental level, problem-solving and the withdrawal of privileges.  

Source: Preventing ChildMaltreatment: A Guide to Taking Action and Generating Evidence.

Geneva: WHO, 2006.

Neglect & Negligent Treatment

Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm. Types of neglect can be medical, physical, or emotional. Negligent treatment would include failure to provide age-appropriate adult guardianship. See Appendix E for Recognizing Indicators of Abuse and Neglect.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Section 28 of the Bill of Rights, addresses the protection of the Child and states the rights of the child to be protected from maltreatment, neglect and degradation (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development). 

Note:  The School recognizes within our community that at times parent(s) are required to travel away from home overnight or for extended periods of time. Therefore, AISJ has outlined a process to assist parents who encounter this challenge and to ensure that legalities are covered so that parents are legally compliant with the laws governing temporary guardianship.

When single parents, both parents, or legal guardians travel out of Johannesburg, without their children while AISJ is in session, a temporary guardian must be appointed who will assume full responsibility, including medical responsibility, for the child for the duration of the absence. 

Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in a sexual act that he/she is unable to fully understand or give consent to.  Child sexual abuse is often thought to occur between a child and an adult, but it can also occur between a child and another child if the relationship (by age, development, or position) is evidenced by a higher level of responsibility, trust, or power by one of the individuals, with the sexual activity being intended to satisfy the needs of the more responsible or powerful member (UNICEF, 2012).  Cases of child exploitation, such as coercion to engage a child in illegal sexual activity like prostitution or pornographic performances and materials, are also considered child sexual abuse.


Grooming is the process by which an individual prepares a child, significant adults and the environment for abuse of the child. Perpetrators of grooming manipulate their victims over a period of time, sometimes years, gradually gaining the victim’s trust, desensitising and sexualising them for the purposes of abuse. Victims are taught to respect, trust and sometimes love their perpetrator and the betrayal of that trust can result in severe long-term trauma. Grooming can occur in person and/or online, It frequently takes place undetected by others and it is rarely disclosed by the victim.  


Child exploitation refers to the use of a child for another individual’s advantage, gratification and/or profit, resulting in physical, emotional, educational, moral and/or social-emotional harm to the child. Exploitation can include situations of manipulation, misuse, abuse, victimization, oppression or maltreatment. 

The two main areas of child exploitation are sexual and economic. 

  • Examples of sexual exploitation include: child pornography, prostitution and trafficking, and sexual slavery, as well as an inappropriate online presence and suspected intimate relations with an adult. 

  • Examples of economic exploitation include: child labor, child soldiers, the use of children for criminal activities, and the involvement of children in harmful or hazardous work.

 (NSPCC, 2017)


Bullying is not conflict, as conflict occurs naturally in human interaction. Bullying can be physical, verbal, social/relational, and/or damaging of property. Bullying can also occur through technology, referred to as cyberbullying or electronic bullying.  Important defining factors of bullying include a real or perceived power imbalance (physical or social) and a pattern of behavior usually repeated over time. Such behavior is reasonably interpreted as being dehumanizing, intimidating, hostile, humiliating, threatening, or otherwise likely to evoke fear of physical harm or emotional distress. In South Africa the term bullying applies to all minors, under the age of 18. 


Harassment is unwanted and annoying behavior that is offensive, unreasonable and causes mental, psychological, physical or economic harm. This includes threats, demands and discrimination that is directed at a person based on certain characteristics, such as gender, race, faith or sexual orientation.  Harm includes personal harm or humiliation, as well as hostile, intimidating or abusive environments that interfere with teaching-learning. Harassment can take many forms, including:  physical, verbal, sexual, social/relational and/or electronic means. 

Non-Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI)

NSSI or “self harm” is defined as the deliberate, self-inflicted destruction of the body without suicidal intent and for purposes not socially sanctioned. As research has identified a link to child maltreatment and NSSI, a reported concern or disclosure of self-harming behaviors may be subject to safeguarding policies and protocols if there is subsequent evidence of child maltreatment and/or the involvement of significant or potential self-harm (Serafini et. al, 2017)