European Journal of Pediatrics

, Volume 178, Issue 9, pp 1423–1432 | Cite as

Survey evidence of the decline in child abuse in younger Canadian cohorts

  • Fabienne LigierEmail author
  • Charles-Edouard Giguère
  • Monique Séguin
  • Alain Lesage
Original Article


Physical and sexual abuse in childhood is a worldwide phenomenon with potentially dramatic consequences of both a psychological and physical nature. Measures of primary prevention have been developed in some countries. In the USA, child protection services reports and research surveys indicate that child sexual abuse has been on the decline in recent decades. Results are less clear for physical and overall abuse. The aim of this study was to describe how childhood abuse has changed over the years in Canada through an analysis of the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey: Mental Health Edition data. The sample comprised 22,775 respondents ages 20 and over who completed a child abuse questionnaire. Respondents born from 1983 to 1992 reported significantly less overall abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse than did older generations, with the exception of people born in 1942 or earlier. The decrease was observed among men and women and across all the regions of Canada.

Conclusion: The results are encouraging in that they may have an impact on life expectancy, severity of various chronic disorders, and suicide in the population. They also support policies that have focused on improving the childhood environment in the 1990s. Results also underline the importance of using different kinds of data sources for evaluating child abuse.

What is Known:

• Physical and sexual abuse in childhood has been associated with lower life expectancy in connection with an array of chronic diseases, including mental disorders, and with suicide.

• Measures of primary prevention have been developed in some countries, such as the USA and Canada.

What is New:

• Canadians born from 1983 to 1992 report significantly less overall abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse than older generations do.

• These encouraging results support policies implemented in the 1990s focused on improving the childhood environment.


Child abuse Epidemiology Primary prevention Social policies 



Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health


Childhood Experiences of Violence Questionnaire


Canadian Incidence Study


Gender, Alcohol, and Culture International Study


Intimate partner violence


National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence


National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System


Québec Incidence Study


Authors’ contribution

FL has participated in the concept and design, interpretation of data, and drafting and revision of the manuscript. CEG has participated in the concept and design, analysis and interpretation of data, and revision of the manuscript. MS has participated in the revision of the manuscript. AL has participated in the concept and design, interpretation of data, and revision of the manuscript.

All authors are responsible for reported research, they have approved the manuscript as submitted, and they have no conflict of interest.


Dr. Ligier was a post-doctoral fellow at the Québec Suicide Research Network, funded by the Québec Health and Social Research Funds.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article is not based on any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McGill Group on Suicide StudiesMontréalCanada
  2. 2.Psychiatry DepartmentMontréal UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Research CenterInstitut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de MontréalMontrealCanada
  4. 4.EA 4360 APEMACUniversité de LorraineNancyFrance
  5. 5.Centre Psychothérapique de NancyPôle Universitaire de Psychiatrie de l’Enfant et de l’AdolescentLaxouFrance
  6. 6.Banque Signature, Research CenterInstitut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de MontréalMontrealCanada
  7. 7.Department of Psychoeducation and PsychologyQuébec UniversityOutaouaisCanada
  8. 8.Centre intégré de santé et service social de l’Outaouais (CISSSO)OutaouaisCanada
  9. 9.Québec Network on Suicide ResearchMontrealCanada

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