Child neglect is where the responsible adult fails to provide adequately for various needs, including physical (failure to provide adequate food, clothing, or hygiene), emotional (failure to provide nurturing or affection), educational (failure to enroll a child in school), or medical (failure to medicate the child or take him or her to the doctor).
Physical abuse is physical aggression directed at a child by an adult. It can involve punching, striking, kicking, shoving, slapping, burning, bruising, pulling ears or hair, stabbing, choking or shaking a child. Shaking a child can cause shaken baby syndrome, which can lead to intracranial pressure, swelling of the brain, diffuse axonal injury, and oxygen deprivation; which leads to patterns such as failure to thrive, vomiting, lethargy, seizures, bulging or tense fontanels, altered breathing, and dilated pupils. The transmission of toxins to a child through its mother (such as with fetal alcohol syndrome) can also be considered physical abuse in some jurisdictions.
Most nations with child-abuse laws consider the infliction of physical injuries or actions that place the child in obvious risk of serious injury or death to be illegal. Beyond this, there is considerable variation. The distinction between child discipline and abuse is often poorly defined. Cultural norms about what constitutes abuse vary widely: among professionals as well as the wider public, people do not agree on what behaviors constitute abuse.
Some human-service professionals claim that cultural norms that sanction physical punishment are one of the causes of child abuse, and have undertaken campaigns to redefine such norms.
The use of any kind of force against children as a disciplinary measure is illegal in 24 countries around the world, but prevalent and socially accepted in many others. See corporal punishment in the home for more information.