The Government is proposing to change the child neglect laws in England and Wales to include a new offence of emotional abuse of children.
The proposed law was announced by Robert Buckland MP and is set to form part of the Queen’s Speech in early June. Mr Buckland, who has campaigned on the issue, stated that “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”. The tale of Cinderella, popularised by the Brothers Grimm, famously involves a young girl who is subjected to taunts, rejection and isolation, while being forced into servitude by her “wicked” stepmother.
Currently, the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, more than 80 years old with certain sections dating back to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1868, makes it a criminal offence for a parent or carer to have deliberately assaulted, abandoned or exposed a child to suffering or injury to their health.
Sitting alongside physical and sexual abuse as criminal offences, the new law will make it a crime to deliberately harm a child’s “physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development”. This could include deliberately depriving a child of kindness and affection over an extended time which subsequently damage’s a child’s emotional or behavioural development. Other new offences could include forcing a child to witness domestic violence or making a child a scapegoat. Parents and carers who are found guilty of this new offence could face up to ten years in prison.
At present, as many as 1.5 million British children are believed to suffer from neglect; furthermore, in a recent online survey of 258 abuse victims, 88 per cent did not think the criminal justice system took psychological harm into account. The proposed changes could deliver Cinderella her “happy ever after” sooner as the police will be able to intervene earlier – before emotional cruelty transfers into physical and sexual abuse.