Child neglect

New UK law considered to curb emotional cruelty to children

Following a campaign by charity Action for Children for the introduction of a new “Cinderella Law”, the UK government confirms that it is currently looking at the introduction of additional legislation creating the new offence of emotional cruelty to children.

Suggested changes to the neglect legislation in England and Wales would, for the first time enable prosecution of parents for denying their children affection. This follows concerns that the existing child neglect laws focus primarily on the physical effects of abuse and that further legislation is required to cover the emotional and psychological damage caused by abuse.

Currently social work professionals refer to an established definition of child cruelty. This definition however is not actually backed up and supported in law.

The Chief Executive for the Action for Children charity, Sir Tony Hawkhead confirmed that the proposed legislative changes would provide a “monumental step forward for thousands of children”.

Action for Children’s campaign has received political backing from MP’s and other key officials:

Mr Robert Buckland Conservative MP for Swindon South has stated that non physical abuse could cause “significant harm” to children and that the current laws are outdated and based on legislation which was first introduced 150 years ago. Child neglect was originally made a punishable offence under the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1868.

The campaign has received further support from the late Labour MP Paul Goggins along with Baroness Butler-Sloss a former judge and president of the High Court family division.

Mr Mark Williams Liberal Democrat MP last year introduced a new private members bill relating to the issue.

Currently, The Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 provides for the punishment of a person who treats a child “in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and any mental derangement)”.

The introduction of the private members bill adds a further category of harm: impairment of “physical, intellectual, emotional (social or behavioural) development” for which parents or carers could be prosecuted.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed that it was currently looking at ways to protect children from cruelty and neglect and considering ways in which the law can support this. A spokesperson confirmed that protecting children was “fundamental” adding that child cruelty was an “abhorrent crime which should be punished”.

Pressing ahead, Ministers are looking to introduce changes before the next election but this is by no means guaranteed. The Daily Telegraph also reported that new legislation would be introduced in the Queens Speech in June. It is believed that this may not need a new and separate piece of legislation but could in fact be added on to an existing bill.