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New law being considered to stop emotional abuse of children

Published: 2nd April 2014

Following a recent campaign by children's charity Action for Children, the government are considering the introduction of new laws to punish parents who emotionally neglect their children.

The proposed law, known as the 'Cinderella Law' will change current legislation on child neglect to include 'emotional cruelty' as a punishable crime which will see parents potentially facing prosecution if they deny their children love or affection.

If the new law is passed, it would be a crime to intentionally harm a child's intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development, bringing emotional neglect in line with sexual or physical abuse of children.

The new law could include depriving a child of love for prolonged periods of time and deliberately ignoring a child, which can cause damage to a child's emotional development. It could also include making a child a scapegoat, forcing an embarrassing or degrading punishment on them and forcing a child to witness domestic violence.

Details of the new law are expected to be included as part of the Queen's Speech in June and Prime Minister David Cameron has given it his backing, saying that there is 'nothing more important than the protection of children'.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said, "This is an area of concern. One of the issues that has been raised by the groups that have considerable expertise in this area is that the law has not been updated for some time."

"In terms of legislation, I cannot comment on what may or may not be in the Queen’s Speech but it is certainly something that is under very active consideration."

Current legislation exists in the form of the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 which states that it is a punishable offence to treat 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 'Cinderella Law' campaign has been backed by Tory MP Robert Buckland, who also called for the laws to change, saying that the 'time for change is long overdue'.

Mr Buckland said, "Not too many years after the Brothers Grimm popularised the story of Cinderella, the offence of child neglect was introduced."

"Our criminal law has never reflected the full range of emotional suffering experienced by children who are abused by their parents or carers. The sad truth is that, until now, the wicked stepmother would have got away scot free."

"We need a clear, concise and workable definition of child maltreatment — an alternative code that reflects the range of harm of done to children and which provides appropriate legal mechanisms to tackle some of the worst cases."

"Emotional neglect must be outlawed, the term 'wilful' should be replaced and the criminal law should be brought into line with its civil counterpart."

Mr Buckland told the BBC, "You can look at a range of behaviours, from ignoring a child's presence, failing to stimulate a child, right through to acts of in fact terrorising a child where the child is frightened to disclose what is happening to them."

"Isolating them, belittling them, rejecting them, corrupting them, as well, into criminal or anti-social behaviour."

"This proposal is not about widening the net, it's about making the net stronger so that we catch those parents and carers who are quite clearly inflicting significant harm on their children, whereas they should be nurturing them and loving them."

He also stressed that non-physical abuse to children should be taken seriously as it can cause "significant harm" to children and that he hoped the new law would give police a "clearer way" in which to work. Many carers and social workers have a definition of child cruelty that they have to work within, but as there is no definitive law in place, it makes it extremely difficult for the police to gather and use evidence to prosecute offenders.

It has been reported that there are as many as 1.5 million children in Britain who are victims of neglect and it is hoped that the new law will allow police to intervene and spot offenders earlier.

K J Smith Solicitors are highly skilled in handling cases relating to children, from the straight forward to the highly complex.

For more information or to arrange a free 45 minute consultation, please contact us today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 0118 418 1000 (Reading Head Office), 0118 418 1200 (Reading Central), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke), 01483 370100 (Guildford), 01494 629000 (Beaconsfield), 01235 375500 (Abingdon), 01344 513000 (Ascot), 01635 785 100 (Newbury), 01962 587900 (Winchester) or email info@kjsmith.co.uk.

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