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District of Columbia Child Abuse Laws

In the District of Columbia, child abuse or neglect occurs when a child is mistreated, resulting in injury or risk of harm. Mistreatment includes the infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child, including excessive corporal punishment, an act of sexual abuse, molestation, exploitation, or injury that results from exposure to drug-related activity.

District of Columbia Mandatory Reporting Requirements

Certain people - known as mandatory reporters - are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse and neglect. D.C. law requires people in certain professions, such as doctors and teachers, to report whenever they know or suspect a child is experiencing abuse or neglect. Any mandatory reporter who willfully fails to make such a report can be imprisoned for up to 180 days and/or fined based on the provisions in Section 22-3571.01.

How to Report Child Abuse in D.C.

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, or is at risk of abuse or neglect, you should make a report to the Metropolitan Police Department, the 911 Emergency Call Center, or the Child and Family Services Agency.

District of Columbia Child Abuse Laws at a Glance

While it's important to read the actual language of the law when you have a legal question, it can also be useful to read an overview of the law. In the following chart, you have access to both - an overview of child abuse laws in D.C. as well as links to relevant statutes.


District of Columbia Code Division IV, Title 22, Subtitle I, Chapter 11:

Cruelty to Children

It's cruelty to children in the first degree to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly beat, torture, or otherwise willfully mistreat a child under 18 years old or engage in conduct which creates a serious risk of physical injury to a child, and in so doing causes physical injury.

It's cruelty to children in the second degree to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

  • Mistreat a child or engage in conduct that puts a child in serious risk of physical injury; or
  • Expose a child, or aid and abet in exposing a child in any highway, street, field house, outhouse or other place, with intent to abandon the child.
Refusal or Neglect by Parent or Guardian

It's unlawful for a parent or guardian (with sufficient financial ability) to refuse or neglect to provide food, clothing, and shelter that would prevent the suffering and secure the safety of their child under the age of 14.

Charges and Penalties

Cruelty to children in the first degree is punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years.

Cruelty to children in the second degree is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years.

Refusal or neglect by parent or guardian is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the Workhouse of the District of Columbia for up to 3 months.

Note: Fines as set forth in Section 22-3571.01 can be imposed in addition to or instead of imprisonment for each of these crimes.

Related Statute(s)

District of Columbia Code:

  • Division I, Title 4, Chapter 13, Section 4-1301.02, et seq. (Child Abuse and Neglect)
  • Division IV, Section 22-811 (Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

District of Columbia Child Abuse Laws: Related Resources

Charged with Violating District of Columbia Child Abuse Laws? Get Legal Help

Sometimes people may perceive discipline as child abuse and report it to the authorities. If you've been charged with child abuse in D.C., it's in your best interest to speak with a local criminal defense attorney to see how the law applies to your situation and to learn more about your rights and options.

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