In most judicial systems within the United States, the crime of child abuse and child neglect are considered to be serious offenses and thus a person can be charged with a felony.
Even though these crimes are similar, there is a distinct difference. Child abuse involves physical and/or sexual abuse of a child by someone older than the child. The abuser can be a close family member, such as the parent, a brother or sister, or a close relative, i.e. uncle, aunt, grandfather or grandmother. Physical abuse is defined as hitting, slapping, or using other objects to inflict visible marks, bruises, or open wounds on the child. Sexual abuse is where the abuser engages in appropriate sexual relations with the child.
Child neglect, on the other hand, involves a situation of abandonment of the child's welfare and could include such actions as the withholding of food, or not providing a child with proper care.
Even though both types of abuse are reprehensible and against the law, in many cases, law enforcement and the courts are more lenient on those charged and convicted of child neglect than they are with those charged and convicted of child abuse.