An Australian study has pointed out that child neglect could be as harmful to children's cognitive development as physical and sexual abuse.
Ryan Mills, a paediatrician and co-author of the study, said child protection systems struggled to deal with chronic cases of neglect.
"But neglect needs to be given equal attention because its long-term effects are at least as severe as physical or sexual abuse," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying.
The study of almost 4,000 children aged 14 revealed that those with a history of reported abuse or neglect scored on average three IQ points lower than children who had not been maltreated.
And the children who had been neglected did just as poorly as children with a history of physical or sexual abuse.
Mills said about 7 percent of children were reported for neglect at some time before they reached adulthood, and this probably represented ''the tip of the iceberg''.
Mills said a background of child abuse and neglect was the strongest predictor of how the children fared in the tests, even stronger than more traditional indicators such as family income.
Mills said a difference of three IQ points was significant but probably would not, on its own, make a big difference to a child's life. However, the loss in educational attainment was a ''waste of human potential'.
The study is current published online in the medical journal Paediatrics.