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Child Abuse and the Law

Child Abuse and the Law

Child Abuse Law


The authority responsible for child abuse law in Canada rests with the federal government. In December, 1991, Canada signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As a ratified member, Canada is internationally accountable with regard to its universal legislation on the rights of children and youth. These include the right for children and youth to live in a safe, protective and nurturing environment.

It is interesting to note here that 2 countries that have signed the Convention but not ratified it are the United States and Somalia. Somalia has stated it intends to ratify the Convention soon.


Statute of Limitations

There are laws that dictate the amount of time that can go by after a crime is committed for a person to be charged with that crime. It is not possible to talk about these laws and not include statute of limitations.

When it comes to child abuse, there is no statute of limitations in Canada. Whether the child abuse occurred 5 minutes ago, 5 weeks ago, 5 or 50 years ago, an offender can still be charged. Nowhere is the latter more evident than with our Aboriginal people: more than 7,000 lawsuits have been filed against the Canadian Federal Government claiming sexual, physical and cultural abuse suffered at Residential Schools.

Though it is not the intent of this page to go into detail on laws that govern child abuse, it is worth identifying the various legislation that cover child abuse in Canada:

  • Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
  • Canadian Human Rights Legislation
  • Canadian Criminal Code
  • Canadian Civil Law
  • Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IPRA), 2001
  • Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations and Rules, 2002
  • Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)
  • Provincial and Territorial Child Welfare Legislation


Age of Majority


In Canada, a child is defined in terms of age. The age of majority is 18 or 19, depending on the province (see table below). The youngest a child can be is 0, that is to say a newborn.

Please Note: Though a fetus can be abused either by the mother or some other person, it is not the intent of this site to debate whether or not a fetus is a person. Although the term ‘child’ is often used synonymously with young children and youth, a child is defined as under the age of 12 years, whereas a youth or adolescent is defined as being between 12 – 19 (or 18, depending on the province). Child abuse law refers to anyone under the provincial legal age as a ‘minor child’.

Canada – Age of Majority by Province

Province                      Age

Alberta                               18

British Columbia                19

Manitoba                           18

New Brunswick                 19

Newfoundland                   19

Northwest Territories        19

Nova Scotia                      19

Ontario                              18

Prince Edward Island        18

Quebec                             18

Saskatchewan                  18

Yukon Territories              19

Nunavut                            19


Preventing and Responding to Preventing


In Canada, child welfare laws require that all cases of suspected child abuse must be investigated to determine if a child is in need of protection.  If a child is determined to be in need of protection, the child welfare authorities may respond by, for example, providing counselling and support for the family, removing the child (temporarily or permanently) from the home, or removing the abuser(s) from the home. Criminal sanctions may also apply in cases of sexual or physical abuse.

Since the 1960s, significant steps have been taken to address child abuse in Canada (15)including, for example:

  • The introduction of mandatory reporting laws
  • The creation of child abuse registries
  • Changes to the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act (see Reforming the law and enhancing its implementation);
  • The extension of time limits for laying charges in child sexual abuse cases, and
  • The establishment of child protection agencies run by First Nations.

Further, since the landmark reports by Badgley (1984) (16)and Rogers (1990), (17)legislation to address child sexual abuse has been created and efforts to address the sexual exploitation of children are ongoing. Following the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, (18)the federal government acknowledged its role in the occurrence of physical and sexual abuse in residential schools, and implemented a community-based healing strategy for Aboriginal communities (Gathering Strength). (19)

Given the extent of child abuse in Canada – as well as the complexity of this issue and its enormous impact – effectively preventing, identifying and responding to child abuse is an enormous but essential task. Addressing this issue requires the ongoing commitment and collaboration of community members, practitioners, and policy makers across Canada. Community supports and services for victims and their families are essential.

The Department of Justice du Canada and its partners – including non-governmental organizations, provincial and territorial governments and the private sector – are actively involved in addressing child abuse issues through legal reform, public and professional education, research and support for programs and services.  Some of this work is linked to the Department’s participation in the federal government’s current Family Violence Initiative which focuses on violence against women and children that occurs in the home, while other areas of activity are linked to other initiatives including, for example, the National Children’s Agenda, the Aboriginal Justice Strategy, and the National Strategy on Crime Prevention and Community Safety.


Reforming the Law and Enhancing its Implementation

In Canada, child abuse and exploitation are prohibited by the Criminal Code. For example, offenders may be charged under the Criminal Code for assaulting children. At the provincial/ territorial level, child protection legislation permits intervention to ensure children’s safety and welfare.

In recent years, the Criminal Code has been amended to create new criminal offences relating to child sexual assault, to specifically include female genital mutilation in the aggravated assault provision, and to amend the provisions on child sex tourism. Currently, Bill C-15 proposes legislation to protect children from sexual exploitation by criminalizing a number of specific actions including luring children on the Internet; transmitting, making available, or exporting child pornography on the Internet; or intentionally accessing child pornography on the Internet. Sentencing provisions would also be strengthened. Bill C-15 also proposes measures to make it easier to prosecute people involved in child sex tourism.

Federal law also seeks to protect child witnesses. For example, recent amendments to the Canada Evidence Act, which define the forms of evidence that may be admitted in court, allow children, depending on their age and the type of offence involved, to be accompanied by a support person when they testify in court.  Further, children can no longer be cross-examined by an accused; they may be allowed to provide testimony outside the courtroom or behind screens; and a videotape may be admitted as evidence, in lieu of a child’s in-person testimony.

As part of the Children as Victims Project, the Department of Justice du Canada is conducting a comprehensive review and consultation with its provincial/territorial partners and the public to determine the need for further reforms to criminal law and policy, particularly with respect to specific offences against children, children’s testimony, and sentencing. The Project is exploring:

Adding new child-specific offences to the Criminal Code. Child specific offences under review include: criminal physical abuse of a child, criminal neglect of a child, criminal emotional abuse of a child, child homicide, and failing to report suspected crimes against children.

Ensuring that the Criminal Code provisions concerning age of consent are appropriate.  The areas under review include raising the general age of consent to sexual activity, and a possible amendment to ensure that a child victim’s apparent consent cannot be used as a defence.

Ensuring that the Criminal Code contains sentencing provisions to better protect children. Possible modifications currently under review include provisions to: specifically emphasize the importance of denunciation and deterrence of crimes against children; provide the courts with additional tools to require longer-term supervision and mandate the availability of treatment for offenders who pose a continuing danger of re-offending against children; recognize the frequency and seriousness of child abuse in the home and at the hands of parents and caretakers; encourage the courts, when sentencing offenders in these cases, to place less emphasis on an offender’s previous good character, since it is not unusual for such offenders to lack a prior criminal record; and require the courts to emphasize the emotional and psychological harms caused to children in assessing the gravity of the offences and the conduct involved.

Improving the experience of child witnesses and facilitating their testimony in criminal proceedings.  Potential changes under review include: eliminating the required competency hearing for child witnesses; making the use of testimony outside the courtroom or behind screens more widely available; increasing the use of videotaped evidence; changes to the use of hearsay statements; ensuring that delays in the court process do not jeopardize the availability of support for child witnesses; ensuring that supports are available regardless of the type of offence; and ensuring that children are not questioned in ways that are inappropriate to their age and development during cross-examination.

Some of the Department’s other areas of activity which impact on the issue of child abuse include:

The Supreme Court of Canada has recently upheld the Criminal Code of Canada’s possession of child pornography provision.

A Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Prostitution has been addressing the issue of youth involvement in prostitution through research and consultations in most jurisdictions. The Working Group’s report on legislation, policy and practices concerning prostitution-related activities was released in December 1998.

The Department is actively involved in international efforts to prevent trafficking in children and child sexual exploitation.

The family law system and the federal Divorce Act are also important tools for addressing the issue of child abuse. The Department is consulting with Canadians to determine how the legal system can improve its response to family violence when parents are separating or divorcing, and what changes (if any) should be made to the federal Divorce Act to promote child-centred decision-making in situations of violence to ensure the safety of children and others.


(15) Ann Duffy and Julianne Momirov, Family Violence: A Canadian Introduction (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company Ltd., 1997): 183, and Canada. Health Canada, Child Abuse: Reporting and Classification in Health Care Settings (Ottawa: Health Canada, 1998): 3.

(16) Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youth, Sexual Offences Against Children in Canada: Report of the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youth [the Badgley Report](Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1984).

(17) Special Advisor to the Minister on Child Sexual Abuse, Reaching for Solutions: The Summary(Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1992)[On-line]. Available on Internet.

(18) See: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, People to People, Nation to Nation: Highlights from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. (Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1996) and Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, The Path to Healing. (Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1993).

(19) Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Backgrounder: The Residential School System [On-line] Available on Internet.


Child Abuse and the Law – “Criminal Code of Canada Child Protection”


The Government of Canada has made many laws and criminal codes to provide safety and protection to all the children of the nation. Criminal code of Canada child protection provides legal protection to all the children of Canada. All the criminal charges and laws are provided to stop child abuse and exploitation of the children.

Every person of Canada can go to the police station to report a case of child abuse or exploitation of a child.

The criminal code of Canada child protection requires that the abuse be reported to the police. Then the police department makes an inquiry to verify if charges are required. If the police find out that, there is enough proof to lay a charge then they will take the next action. After that, the case will go to the Crown Prosecutor and he will take legal actions in the court.

Everyone should remember two things if the case goes to the court. The child, who is the victim of the abuse, is the witness for the Crown. The criminal does not have his own lawyer in the courtroom. Second thing is that the guiltiness of the criminal is determined using the standard that he must be found on the wrong side of the law beyond a sensible doubt. If a criminal is found not guilty, then it does not mean that the sufferer was not understood. Rather, the reason is that there was not much proof to find guilty.

Criminal code of Canada child protection also provides child safety against sexual interference. Every person who tries to touch or touches directly a part of the body of a child or the person of under the age of 14 is guilty. Such criminal is responsible custody for a term of not more than 10 years.

The criminal code of Canada child protection provides a right to the children of the nation against their sexual exploitation. Every person who behaves in a wrong manner with a child for sexual purposes is guilty for this action. Some people make use of their relationship to exploit sexually a person under the age of 14.

Some of the people also invite or motivate a young person to touch indirectly or directly their body. Such people are culpable and accountable to sentence for a term of not more than five years.

Some people are found guilty in the incest crime. The person who commits incest is responsible of an indictable offence and he is legally responsible to custody for a term of not more than 14 years.

The criminal code of Canada child protection also includes a section on abuse of brother and sister relationship. Criminals, who commit incest with a child that is in relationship, can be charged with the common child abuse sections of the criminal code of Canada.

People are legally bound to report all suspected cases of child abuse to the Child Welfare department of Alberta. Then the Child Welfare should call the police to provide safety to the children.

Thus, everyone can provide safety and protection to his children with the help of the criminal code of Canada child protection

One comment

  1. I was badly based as a child. I’ve turned the other cheek over the years but gotten metal abuse. Now that I found my abuser (mom) hiding by her maiden name in rural NewFoundLand with a whole town of people convinced she’s this wonderful person, I’d like to get some satisfaction for all the pain she caused me and my sister. I know my children’s aid foster parents and my extended family would live it too. How does one proceed? What evidence do I need to collect?

    This all happened between 1964 and 1979 when I finally had to run away for fear of being struck in the head with knives, forks & coffee mugs she had started throwing at me.

    Things like being pushed to the floor and kicked in the ribs repeatedly , grabbed by the ears and my head rammed against the wall again and again until I was weak. An untold number of beatings and to this day at 50 I still have confidence problems.


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